UK Govt Goal: Reduce Illegal P2P by 70%

Digital Britain Report says is necessary to ensure “investment in content” is at “socially appropriate levels.”

Today the UK govt published its much anticipated Digital Britain Report. Launched in 2008, the project is intended to “secure the UK’s place at the front of digital and telecommunications innovation and quality.” To do this, the steering board for Digital Britain has consulted with experts within and outside of government, and broadband industry regulators.

“Digital Britain is a statement of intent and ambition, a commitment to infrastructure and access, and an overdue recognition of the Industrial importance of the Creative Industries,” said Stephen A. Carter, Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting. “”The Digital Economy is a case study in the interdependence of competitive markets, regulation, entrepreneurialism, and a strategic approach from Government.”

The report suggests a variety of policies intended to maximize the social and economic benefits from digital technologies.

Some of the Digital Britain measures include:

  • Universal access to today’s broadband services by 2012
  • Next Generation fund for investment in tomorrow’s broadband services
  • Upgraded mobile networks
  • National Plan to improve Digital Participation
  • Robust legal and regulatory framework to combat Digital Piracy

It’s the latter one that’s what has many concerned most, for it involves unspecified “technical measures” to punish repeat file-sharers along with other solutions to ensure that “investment in content is at socially appropriate levels by allowing investors to fully appropriate returns on their investment.”

Some of the other solutions include making it easier for copyright holders to file civil suits against suspected illegal file-sharers, along with legislation requiring ISPs to both notify customers of illegal behavior and to require them to maintain records of the most frequent offenders.

All of this is with the apparent goal in mind of reducing illegal file-sharing by some 70%.

“The legislation would be accompanied by a Code of Practice which would include agreed standards relating to the notification process, consumer protection, standards of evidence, cost sharing, etc.,” says the report.

However, it’s interesting to note that in it’s cost-benefit analysis it admits that “there are uncertainties around the estimates of the sales displacement effect on right holders.” In other words, it’s not really sure how much more content people will buy legally if there is a crackdown on P2P. Its figures claim a £1700 million ($2.8 billion USD) benefit to copyright holders in “recovered displaced sales” if ISPs helped copyright holders fight illegal file-sharing, but there’s no way to know what the amount is. Several studies have in fact concluded the opposite is true, that P2P actually increases music consumption.

The report also estimates the annual cost to ISPs for the plan to be about £290-500 million ($476-821 million USD) annually with no mention of who’s responsible for the tab. It certainly won’t be copyright holders, and will inevitably be Internet users that get left holding the bag to protect the failed business models of copyright holders.

The report adds that the “sheer scale of P2P file-sharing means it is not practicable to take all those involved to court.” If your method of doing business is so bad that you have to resort to suing tens of millions of people, most of them likely customers, then isn’t there a much larger problem at hand?

It goes on to mention that it’s important to fight illegal file-sharing in order to make sure that there’s an “incentive to invest in new and mainstream artists.” That may be so, but does it have to be done by requiring ISPs to monitor everyone’s Internet traffic, especially when numerous credible studies have concluded it increases music consumption and therefore the “incentive to invest?”