In the tradition of fine journalism you’ve come to expect from New Music Strategies, I’m just going to cut and paste a press release from the British Phonographic Institute (BPI) verbatim. They’re the UK equivalent of the RIAA, in case you weren’t aware.

I would add further comment, but I have collapsed on the floor with laughter and may, in fact, have injured myself. I’ll try and sum up the hilarity at the end if I can pull myself together…

BPI PRESS RELEASE | Friday June 13, 2008

You may have read Bill Thompson’s online comment piece on the BPI Virgin Media deal. We were offered a right of reply, which was published on the BBC website today. The link to Thompson’s article is below, as is our response.

Bill Thompson, Virgin Territory for ISPs

BPI COMMENT | Virgin Media’s downloading education campaign represents a turning point in digital music

Education through partnership is the first stage to creating an internet where music’s value is recognised and rewarded, says BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

Bill Thompson’s critique of the new education campaign we have launched with Virgin Media was a good illustration of why such a campaign is needed: in drawing misleading analogies between illegal filesharing and taping programmes off the TV he shows that even “experts” get it wrong sometimes.

It’s good that he recognises that the future for consumers, internet service providers (ISPs), and the music community is in developing even more new licensed download services.

But it’s naive at best to think licensed music services can prosper without action being taken against illegal downloading.

Indeed it’s Bill Thompson, rather than music companies, who is stuck in the past. Music companies are radically re-inventing their business models in response to changes in how music fans want to access music online.

Yet Thompson’s digital utopianism clings to an implausible and dated belief that the internet will be an endless free lunch.

Let’s look at the figures. More than six and a half million people in the UK illegally access and distribute music, and it is plain wrong to say that this is good for music.

Independent research has shown time after time that people who download illegally generally spend less on music than people that don’t, which undermines investment in new music.

The record companies themselves have adjusted to these times of transition, and the BPI is fighting to promote and protect the value of copyright, to allow their new models space to breathe.

Digital distribution: new models
The good news is that many elements of our digital future are already here.

As a self-confessed illegal downloader, Bill may not know there are already hundreds of licensed online and mobile services (carrying more than six million tracks) from which to choose where and how to access music legally.

iTunes (paid-for a la carte downloads), Napster and eMusic (monthly subscription), We7 (free to consumer, ad-supported), (interactive web radio), YouTube, Yahoo (streamed video on-demand) and Nokia’s Comes With Music (music as part of a subscription) are just some of the many digital business models that record labels are supporting.

In short, ours is one of the most digitally-literate businesses in Britain, and innovation is translating into revenue. So far this year, 13.4% of our sales revenues have come through digital platforms and in total, more than 200 million downloads have been sold in the UK.

We believe that ISPs, far from being a simple pipe, can become significant distributors of digital media, and share in the tremendous value that would be unleashed if more music were accessed legally online.

But despite the proliferation of licensed services, most music is still downloaded from unlicensed services – a problem that cannot be addressed through new models alone.

This is why ISP partnerships are the next logical step in our maturing digital music business.

Education and social responsibility
By sending hundreds of thousands of information messages to illegal filesharers, supporting initiatives such as Pro-Music, developing free useful tools for consumers such as Digital File Check, and partnering with charities such as Childnet, the music business has worked hard at consumer education.

ISPs can play a role in education too. During this campaign, we provide Virgin Media with publically available information about their customers’ illegal music sharing. Virgin Media then contact the customer to give them the information they need to remedy the problem.

Bill Thompson incorrectly challenges the quality of the information we provide: in referring to US researchers who “fooled the US film industry” into sending legal notices to the wrong place, he overlooks the fact that the information supplied by the BPI is collected by robust techniques that have stood up to High Court scrutiny on numerous occasions, and that similar evidence has been used to bring more than 50,000 legal cases across Europe.

Not one of those cases has recorded a mistaken ID, or been successfully contested. This is why the same US researchers cited the music business as an example of best practice for the quality of the evidence it provides.

Most British people donÂ’t want to break the law and agree that people should be paid for their work. We think that that most account holders will welcome information that helps them to download legally and avoid the risk of legal action or the cancellation of their contract.

Let’s be clear about this. We – the music business – do not want to see any customers have their broadband contract cancelled. And if the emails we have received thus far are anything to go by, most people will respond positively to our approach.

But we have to be realistic. Plenty of people are aware that what they are doing is unlawful. Some will note that their ISP is beginning to take the issue seriously and take the advice, but this wonÂ’t work for everyone.

We want all ISPs to implement a simple, non-technological solution which involves no spying on their customers or invasions of privacy. We call it three steps. We collect and pass on to the ISP publically available information about their customers’ illegal filesharing, and ask them to send advisory letters as outlined above. The possibility of account suspension, and the ultimate sanction of contract cancellation, should follow for those customers who choose not to take the advice.

We want our customers to enjoy music online, legally and safely. Digital distribution of music should be a wonderful thing for musicians, for the companies that invest in them and for consumers.

Pretty much all of us – government, consumers, major ISPs, artists and other creative people – agree that we can make that happen by working together. We know our campaign with Virgin Media is not, in isolation, going to solve the problem of how creators can be fairly rewarded in a digital environment.

But this is a genuine step in the right direction, and represents a turning point in the music community’s bid to restore value in music to its rightful owners: the artists and music companies who invest in their creative careers.

This is – quite frankly – the funniest thing I have read in ages. To summarise:

No, YOU’RE stuck in the past.
Bill Thompson is a criminal.
It’s already the future.
We have to sue our customers because its the morally righteous thing to do.
Internet companies should be morally righteous in the same way whenever we tell them to.
More people listening to music is bad for music.
We speak internet just fine.
Good ISPs can grow up to be just like broadcasters.
Good, upstanding British people want to avoid lawsuits.
If everyone works together and does whatever we tell them to, we’ll all get along fine.

Now go and have another look at yesterday’s post, just to make sure you haven’t shifted to a parallel universe – Dubber.

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