Online music piracy: The debate
Singer Ed Sheeran is the most shared artist among Bristol's music pirates, new data has revealed.
According to monitoring service Musicmetric, the artist's 2011 album + (Plus) was illegally downloaded in Bristol more often than any other album – 492 times per month.
The findings came to light in a collection of data revealing the UK's piracy hotspots. The data showed there are more illegal downloads per person in Manchester than any other in the country, followed by Nottingham and Southampton.
Bristol was ranked number 11.
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Piracy has long been an issue for the music industry, which has battled to see file-sharing websites closed down and the sale of illegally copied CDs stamped out.
The British Recorded Music Industry (BPI) makes a distinction between the two, explaining the latter sees individuals and organisations make money through the unlicensed sale or distribution of music, unlike the copyright infringement individuals commit via mass distribution over the internet, or unlicensed copying for personal use at home.
Online copyright infringement is, however, “no less damaging to industry”, the BPI maintains.
According to the organisation, some 7.3 million people are engaged in unlawful file-sharing. “Between the years 2007 and 2012 – according to research conducted by Jupiter Research – the cumulative cost to music companies will be £1.2bn,” it writes.
In recent years the online piracy debate has centred around the Digital Economy Act, which was originally passed by Parliament in 2010.
Among its main provisions is a system of warning letters and sanctions for unlawful downloaders. The Daily Telegraph explains copyright holders will be responsible for monitoring file-sharing networks and informing broadband providers of IP addresses that are infringing copyright.
The providers will then be obliged to check the IP addresses against their customer records, and send warning letters and information about lawful alternatives.
After three warning letters, customers will be added to a blacklist. They will then be subject to a number of restrictions on their broadband account, including suspension of access.
They could be identified by copyright holders via a court order, to face a civil claim under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
The Digital Economy Act has been contested by a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It was challenged in the courts by TalkTalk and BT, who argued it unfairly obliges them to police the activity of their users.
But the BPI maintains: “ISPs are the gatekeepers of the internet and are therefore in a key position to help unlock the huge potential of UK music in the digital age, by helping the music business reduce illegal file-sharing and, in turn, allowing legitimate music services –those which pay artists and musicians – to flourish.
“With the help of ISPs we can stop the online infringement of copyright simply, fairly and effectively.”
In March this year broadband providers lost their High Court appeal against the legislation.
In June, communications regulator Ofcom warned ISPs it plans to implement the Act as soon as possible. The regime could be put in place in early 2014.
When notifying customers of reported infringements, ISPs will have to explain the steps subscribers can take to protect their networks from being used to infringe copyright, and tell them where they can go to find licensed content on the internet, Ofcom explains.
Copyright owners will also be expected to invest in awareness campaigns to help educate consumers about the impact of copyright infringement.
The communications regulator will report regularly to the Government on the effectiveness of both the code and the broader initiatives from copyright owners.
This is the latest in a run of triumphs enjoyed by copyright holders in recent months. In January, one of the internet's largest file-sharing sites, Megaupload, was shut down by US officials. The site's founders were charged with violating piracy laws.
In the same month, 23-year-old Sheffield Hallam University student Richard O'Dwyer lost his extradition case over the website TVShack. The website acted as a directory of links to other websites that hosted illegal downloads or video streams.
The youngster faces up to 10 years in a US federal prison for operating the website.
Meanwhile in February the High Court ruled that popular file-sharing website The Pirate Bay illegally encourages users to infringe music copyright. It is understood the judgement could lead to the site being blocked in the UK.
But the piracy debate is not entirely black and white. Artist Ed Sheeran went against the grain earlier this year by saying he does not let piracy anger him, and believes he has found a "decent balance" between selling albums and people downloading it for free.
The singer told the BBC after his performance at Radio 1's Hackney Weekend: "I sell a lot of tickets. I've sold 1.2 million albums, and the stat is that there's eight million downloads of that as well illegally.
"Nine million people have my record, in England, which is quite a nice feeling.
"I'm still selling albums, but I'm selling tickets at the same time. My gig tickets are like £18, and my albums £8, so ... it's all relative.”
And the data from Musicmetric has prompted many to argue for a new model of music sales in the digital age. Technology journalist Mic Wright points out: “Digital sales have risen because consumers are now better served by online music services.
“If music fans have more convenient choices, illegal downloading will become even less appealing and the young will put their virtual peg-legs and eye patches away.”
Meanwhile the Open Rights Group, an organisation which seeks to preserve users’ rights in the digital age, maintains today’s news is refreshing. The groups’ Peter Bradwell told the BBC: "There are artists basically doing experiments about how their music gets to people's ears and how people react to it.
"It's refreshing because it's somebody willing to think about whether these things are all bad or whether there are other ways of capitalising or not."
Conversely, the BPI is calling on the British public to recognise the damage piracy is inflicting on the music industry. Its chief executive Geoff Taylor told the BBC: "We just need to get over to them the harm that they're doing to investment in new British music.
"If you love music, download legally, because that's the only way we can keep on giving you great music."