Rhodri Marsden: File-sharing is endemic. The law cannot move as fast as technology

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The Independent Online

As someone who writes words and makes music for a living, I should probably be rushing to carry Lord Mandelson shoulder high from his office to a waiting chariot, while a crowd of film-makers and songwriters shower him with confetti.

But the reaction to his proposal that people will have their internet connections severed if they persist in sharing copyrighted material has been one of bewilderment rather than delight. True, groups representing the music industry will broadly welcome any measures to halt its decline, but most record labels had already accepted that such drastic measures would be ineffective, even before the government's own Digital Britain report – released back in June – said pretty much that.

And with the European Parliament having recently ruled that internet access is a fundamental right (thus making a similar French plan to disconnect file sharers unconstitutional) the plan is even more puzzling. Besides, it's unworkable because sharing internet connections over wi-fi is so widespread that working out who has downloaded something is impossible.

In 2007 one American woman had a copyright case against her dismissed after she demonstrated she hadn't shared any files, but someone else could well have used her connection. Prosecutors appealed, saying she should still be liable – but that's like you being punished for someone breaking into your home and making abusive phone calls.

The law simply can't move as fast as technology, and many in creative industries are already digesting the bitter pill that any golden days are over.

Of course, Lord Mandelson is right to want to support British creativity. But we're in a new reality: file-sharing is endemic. There's certainly no going back to, say, 1991, with CD sales going through the roof.

The one glimmer of hope is that file-sharing is time consuming and a bit of a drag. Forward-looking companies are channelling their prized creativity into exploiting this weakness, by doing deals with services that provide people with what they want: access to cheap media, on demand, without hassle. If it succeeds, the act of accumulating tens of thousands of mp3s and movies on a hard disk will seem ridiculous. So, that's where the real advances are being made. But these measures seem to be designed to protect an industry that has already started moving on.

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