Peter Mandelson: Taking something for nothing is wrong

Today’s Sunday Times published a thoughtful contribution to the filesharing debate from Peter Mandelson. In it, he not only displays his understanding that the Internet, when used well, is about dialogue but also shows his stoicism at the route one style of conversation that takes place in the blogosphere 😉

“To those who have raised their voices about the proposed changes this week, let me say that I hear their concerns. I have read their blogs and can live with the abuse (I’ve had worse)”

I see the article as a positive step and should be seen by digital rights campaigners and concerned ISPs that the door is still open. Now is the time to firmly make their case in the consultation on P2P.

I hope that the officials and special advisers to Lord Mandelson, who may be reading this blog and briefing him, might remember that the music industry has got past form at trying to pretend that technological advance isn’t happening.


They might also consider the what the BPI said at the invention of the CD ROM and recordable DVD. The bottom line is that they want the government to enforce scarcity on the Internet where it simply can’t be enforced.

I suggest they specifically approach the following people and organisations, all of whom have differing views but will give a different take on what the future might look like:

Featured Artists Coalition
The Open Rights Group (disclosure: I am a big supporter and hope to play a greater role in the organisation in the future)
Eric Garland of Big Champagne who might share some very accurate and disturbing bit torrent numbers. He might also say that some in the industry suggest that this could be seen as an opportunity and not just a threat.
Will Page, Economist of the PRS
Peter Jenner
Feargal Sharkey I suspect we’d differ in approach to this problem but Feargal has done much to give a dose of reality to the the often conflicting sections of the recorded music industry.

They should also take a look at the Monty Python team who are laughing all the way to the bank with their You Tube Channel. As the Pythons say:

“For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It’s time for us to take matters into our own hands. We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we’ve figured a better way to get our own back: We’ve launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you’ve been posting. We’re giving you the real thing – HQ videos delivered straight from our vault. What’s more, we’re taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what’s even more, we’re letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

But we want something in return. None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.”

Please also don’t forget to share you views in the comments section of the dowloading post.

15 thoughts on “Peter Mandelson: Taking something for nothing is wrong”

  1. I agree – the Python team hit the nail on the head (and convey as much in characteristically independent minded style, without pretence at being anything other than the generation they are). Did it do well for them? I dont know…

  2. interesting contribution to a very difficult debate. for once, i wouldn’t like to be the one making this decision. the record industry have a history of foretelling their doom on the basis of a new piece of technology. the explosion of things like myspace have shown how cheaply songs/albums etc. can be made and distributed, which shows the cost of cds in shows in a new light.
    that, however, is a different matter from how acceptable it is to share something in contravention of copy right

  3. Peters leaving the door open. Mandelsons reassurances that people won’t have their Internet usage monitored doesn’t fill me with confidence. The abuse of section 27 being a wonderful example of a law being abused

  4. Bearded Socialist is right to say that this is a very difficult debate. Both sides are guilty of over simplification: both those in favour of complete freedom to share on the web and the lobbyists for the content owners. I thought Lord Mandelson’s article was encouraging but I was worried that he may also be guilty of oversimplifying things a bit.

    Isn’t the point of consultations like Carter’s that the issues are looked at in their full complexity?

    I’ve blogged a bit more about it here…

  5. I meant to say that you are one of the few politicians who fully understand the issues Tom. I hope Peter Mandelson talks to the people you suggest in this post.

  6. Why is this unelected person telling us all what we should and should not do ? It really should have NOTHING to do with him other than in his capacity as a private individual. If he wants to dictate to us what to do, then he should put himself up for election somewhere.

    I certainly won’t take any lessons in any kind of morality from the likes of the unlected Mr. Mandelson.

    As for “taking something for nothing”, to echo what commentators to the article wrote:

    Well what about all the extra taxes NL have taken from us, as well as ruining people’s pension funds, including my own ? Not to mention the fiddling of MPs expenses and all that…

    I am completely sick of NL and their repressive control freakery, and I was once a NL voter and supporter!

    The finest thing NL could do for this country is to call a general election. Right now, and I hope they learn a hard lesson when they lose it.

  7. Tom I suggest you bring this letter to Lord M’s attention:

    Also it may be worth looking at the accounts of companies such as Sony Pictures, Warner Bros and the other ultra rich companies that have pushed Mandy into this, their UK accounts show massive amounts of tax avoidance. He should be clear on his facts before preaching that these companies contribute to our economy, the relaity is that they use double dip tax setups to shuffle all their profit back to the US while leaving their debt in the UK. One such company actually paid just £220,000 tax on earnings of £99 million.

    These companies do not deserve protecting and their supposed losses certainly should not justify the reversal of the burden of proof so that people are guilty until proven innocent. Has M not seen the cases in the US where dead people have been sued by the content industry in farcical examples of mistaken identity?

  8. Does the state cut an offenders phone line if they commit a criminal act of verbal abuse, insurance fraud or sale of goods acts?
    Ill thought out examples of course, but cutting an offenders internet connection may restrict piracy but will completely change the relationship of communications provider to the state and to their customers. I can only imagine the larger ISPs being able to split the focus of their activities between providing an internet engineering service and being a digital copper..

    What about the real life situations where this could occur. If a lived in a house share or with my family and worked from home, would I also lose my internet connection when my internet link was cut off? Would this not be a form of collective punishment?

    Should we really be criminalising another generation of Britains or should we be expecting the so called creative companies to creatively think of their new role in this information rich and content poor world!

    I fail to see how this legislation will enrich the lives of the electorate. I can’t see any social, economic or security benifits for John the plumber here. Plenty for Sony’s shareholders though..

  9. The prime minister has said that internet access is “now seen by most of the public as an essential service, as indispensable as electricity, gas and water”.This being the case, how does the government explain how it would allow this service to be cut off but not, for example, water supplies?

    Chapter 4, point 16 of the Digital Britain final report said that “a significant reappraisal of traditional positions by most of the [content] operators in the market” is required. How will the government assess if this is happening. And will it still target filesharers if this is not the case?

    Chapter 4, point 28 of the Digital Britain report set out a range of technical measures to take against serious repeat offenders. The government has failed to make the case for why it must now go further than these and sever broadband services completely. If protocol blocking and bandwidth capping can make filesharing effectively impossible, it is clearly punitive and disproportionate to go further and block the service altogether, making legal challenges more likely.

    The August 25 statement says: “It would be important to ensure as far as possible that innocent people who may be affected by such technical measures would retain access to the Internet services they need, including online public services.” The levels of protection to be given to innocent people should be specified.

    The Aug 25 statement says that “some stakeholders have argued strongly that none of those technical measures is powerful enough to have a significant deterrent effect on infringing behaviour”. This clearly contradicts the argument that simply sending letters will have a deterrent effect on illegal behaviour (as noted in Question 9 of the original consultation). If sending letters has such an effect, then limiting access must have an even greater effect. It is not clear what further deterrent effect will be gained by having a power to block all internet access.

    The Aug 25 statement says that “we cannot know how P2P technology might develop in the short to medium term”. Equally then, neither can the government know how options short of complete removal of the internet connection will develop. The possibility that other intermediate options will develop must surely match the possibility that new P2P technology will develop. Therefore this cannot be a sound reason for introducing a power to block all broadband access.

  10. I agree that this is a well thought out article, though it raises more questions than it answers. It would be very interesting to track down the origin of his statement that half of all internet trafffic in the UK is for the carriage of unlawful content.

  11. My own industry, advertising and marketing, is probably the biggest single creative industry in the UK. We’ve faced the same upheaval as the music industry, but because our customers are other companies rather than individuals we haven’t been able to criminalise them, instead we’ve had to develop new business models – and whole new businesses – to deal with it. Traditionally, we made our money by charging clients 10-15% commission on all the advertising they bought (TV minutes, newspaper pages, poster sites, etc). This money funded most of our creative work, overheads, etc. The advent of the internet as prime communications medium has totally changed that. We’ve had to find new ways of charging (fees for work done rather than recurring commissions; pay per click rather than pay for space; payment as a percentage of revenue from ecommerce; etc). All this has created far greater efficiency for clients and driven down wastage, but at the same time generated huge new industries; web design, e-marketing, online PR, etc.

    The music and film industries really need to do the same; to look for new opportunities and models rather than trying to enforce outdated models by abusing their phenomenal lobbying strength to try to change laws. We also need to look at the the industries separately and not allow them to lump themselves together. Music has a low cost of production and the majority of its costs are marketing and promotion. Conversely, films have high and often increasing production costs with vast financial risk in funding new productions.

    In music, we need to see solutions for consumers which are lower cost, more flexible and which realistically handle the fact that, for example, an ipod may hold over 50,000 songs. We cannot be expected to pay £200 for a device, and £50,000 for the content. The key job of the government with respect to any market is to look after the interests of consumers. We protect producers to the extent that that is necessary to ensure that consumers are well provided for (if there was too much shoplifting then retailers would go bust and we’d have no choice). In the music industry, if technology means that some companies go bust whilst new ones thrive; if the number of people employed in A&R falls, so be it. The key test is whether artists are still producing. It’s worth rememembering that traditionally, the music industry has seen the vast majority of artists earn a pittance, or nothing, with only a very very few artists, and a handful of big companies making phenomenal sums of money. There is no evidence at all that the revenue to artists, especially the bulk of smaller artists, is falling due to the internet. Democratisation of music consumption should see their incomes rise – especially as the wider availability of music sees demand for gigs, merchandise and other sources of income rise dramatically. Of course, we need to protect legitimate business from theft and piracy, but the music industry needs to demonstrate rather more legitimacy in its pricing, business models and approach to consumer rights before we can support draconian measures against consumers so keen for its products that they are forced to break the law. This is evidenced by the fact that many heavy illegal downloaders buy more than average music legitimately – they download thousands of tracks for free, but buy hundreds. The music industry could, if it chose, capitalise on these consumers by finding better ways to meet their needs.

    The film industry, with very high production costs, is increasingly utilising technology and business innovation to protect incomes and boost consumer value. For example, films used to be released globally over many months, now they are released near simultaneously. This is enabled by the technology of digital distribution, dramatically reducing cost and time of distribution, and making much more of their marketing buck. It also helps combat piracy because consumers can actually watch the films they read about. Technology has enhanced the cinema experience with phenomenal visual quality, superb sound and even simpe basics like better lines of sight. This has all contributed to the fact that, despite illegal downloads, we’re seeing bumper box office returns.

    We shouldn’t allow spurious statistics from the music industry in particular to shroud the real issues. The key points: Peter Mandelson is right that the Creative Industries are critical to the UK. As a whole, they are fairing well – even through recession. Consumers continue to be well served with output, although the music industry is undergoing change – but no more so than many traditional industries have done in the past – but as old revenue models are dropping, so new ones are rising. The real issue is to tackle the music industry on why they’ve been so poor at meeting consumer needs.

    Finally, books and newspapers are next. As digital readers become ever better in form factor, sooner or later we’ll get one which does for printed material what the ipod did for physical music. If government thinks it can save the dinosaur music industry from change by technological means, how does it think it can save big publishers, when book content is so much easier to distribute undetected than music. If this question can’t be answered, then any moves on music are suspiciously industry-specific and not likely to carry the moral authority with which the protectionists’ arguments have been set out so far.

    A great insight into the upcoming issues in book publishing is here:

  12. I’ve been putting together my response to this (it’s been slow-going). Have some links: (Introduction) (Sanctions) (Detection)

    Posts on “Proof” and “Justification” (by which I mean justification for changing the status quo at all) are due to hit my blog tomorrow.

  13. Another person they might like to contact would be Robert Fripp, who seems to spend a lot of his time fighting copyright infringement by, err, the major record companies.

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