Monday, June 15, 2009

Did Virgin blink in the Net piracy wars

Rory Celland-Jones is asking if Virgin has blinked in the Net piracy wars.
"today, there's a sudden outbreak of peace between two of the parties - Universal Music and Virgin Media. The ISP has unveiled a deal where its customers will get unlimited access to download as much music as they want from the Universal catalogue, free of copyright protection, for a monthly fee.
When I was called about this by a PR person, my first reaction was that this was interesting, but far from ground-breaking. After all, there are other "all you can eat" music subscription services.
Then I read further down the press release and found what Virgin was offering in return - action against persistent file-sharers. Here's the key paragraph:
"This will involve implementing a range of different strategies to educate file sharers about online piracy and to raise awareness of legal alternatives. They include, as a last resort for persistent offenders, a temporary suspension of internet access. No customers will be permanently disconnected and the process will not depend on network monitoring or interception of customer traffic by Virgin Media."
That sounds like the "technical measures" that the creative industries want included in the Digital Britain report, as a backup to the despatch of warning letters. But by promising "a temporary suspension of internet access" for persistent offenders, Virgin appears to have gone further than any other ISP in acceding to the demands of the music industry."
If Virgin are not going to be doing the legwork on identifying file sharers then presumably Universal or agents employed by them will and then asking Virgin to suspend their Net access privileges. Might I again refer you to Lilian Edwards who has pointed out in great detail why this kind of approach to tackling copyright infringement on the Net is inappropriate from all kinds of legal perspectives. As indeed has the European Court of Justice in the Promusicae case and the French Constitutional Council when it struck down the HADOPI 3 strikes law last week.

Of course Virgin and Universal will point out that they are two commercial companies entitled to engage in mutually beneficial contractual arrangements which their customers are obliged to abide by if they wish to use their products or services. Go elsewhere Mr/Ms/Master filesharer if you're unhappy with your suspension.

Well, an acquaintance switched from Virgin to TalkTalk recently and then rapidly switched back because of the unreliable TalkTalk broadband connection (though their phone service was basically fine). So I'd suggest that that opportunity to switch providers is not necessarily, in practice, as realistic or simple an option as it might superfically appear. Virgin is alone in my home town in running (hybrid fibre coaxial) cable to homes afaik and a reliable if sometimes slow cable beats a flaky ISDN down the phone line every time. (Virgin was getting very slow (< 0.4M) which is why my acquaintance switched to TalkTalk but now they've switched back they're getting 8 to 9M standard on a billed 10M service).

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