You Can’t Regulate Just One Industry And Leave The Other Alone

The big news here in the UK this morning (lead story in the FT and I just saw the minister of culture on the BBC) is the deal between the broadband ISPs in the UK and the music and film companies on downloading.

The ISPs have agreed to send warning letters to thousands of their customers who are the most active downloaders of music and films. The UK government will do their part by discussing legislating regulations on the ISPs if the warning letters don’t work.

The most commonly discussed legislation would be a "download fee" applied to every ISP bill which would be paid to the music and film companies.

All of that is well and good, but I read nothing in the FT piece and heard nothing in the BBC interview about regulating the music and film industries to force them to make their content easily and readily available over the Internet.

Of course there are people who don’t want to pay for their music and films, but I believe that vast majority of downloaders are people like me who would gladly pay if the content was available to purchase when I wanted it in the format I want it.

Let’s take The Dark Night. Let’s say that I’d really rather watch it at home on my big screen. I know I can get it on bit torrent so I do that. If it was available to be purchased the same day it went live in the theaters, I’d be happy to pay $20 for the right to watch it at home. But the film companies want to maintain their release windows so it’s not available. So its to bit torrent that I and thousands of others go.

Last month I wanted to purchase a new music album from a band I like. I went to emusic and amazon mp3. It wasn’t available. It was available exclusively on iTunes in DRM format. Screw that. I can’t play DRM’d music on my Sonos or Request systems. It’s of little to no use to me in DRM format. So I bought the CD on Amazon but also downloaded it on limewire so I could listen while I waited for the CD to show up.

The solution to the downloading promblem is not simply to plug the hole at the ISP level. First, its not fair to impose a fee on every ISP customer when not everyone downloads. It would be fair to impose a downloading fee for those who want to download, and maybe it will come to that. But we all know that it will be very easy to hack around that technology.

The real solution is to give the customers what they want which is simple, easy, affordable, instant access to the content they want at a reasonable price. When and if the content owners do that, they will be on their way to solving the download problem. If they don’t do it themselves, we should regulate them and force them to do it.