UK royalty society suggests ISPs pay for pirated music

PRS for Music wants ISPs to measure and then pay for improperly shared music on their networks

A U.K. music royalty collection society has suggested charging ISPs for pirated content traded on their networks, as the organization claims piracy will worsen with faster broadband speeds.

With the introduction of a fee, ISPs may be spurred into either "cleaning out the unlicensed media files" or accept the fee as the cost of doing business and find "new ways to source the value of these creative works," according to the paper from PRS for Music.

PRS for Music is also comprised of the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society. Both organizations, which have about 65,000 songwriters and publisher members, collect and pay royalties based on music that is performed or distributed.

"Operators would face a fee for the transmission of unlicensed media on their networks though that fee would be reduced in line with reductions in the volume of unlicensed media transmitted," according to the paper.

The Internet Services Providers' Association UK, a trade group that represents about 200 companies, said it opposes the idea and instead favors a market-based approach, reforming "the licensing framework so that legal content can be distributed online to consumers in a way that they are demanding."

"We reject the idea that ISPs should have to pay a fee for levels of copyright infringement that may occur on their networks," according to an e-mail statement.

Copyright infringement has been a hotly debated issue in the U.K., which passed a comprehensive package of legislation, the Digital Economy Act, in May dealing in part with piracy. It assigned new responsibilities to the communications regulator Ofcom, which is obligated to create a code of practice for ISPs aimed at reducing online copyright infringement.

Ofcom has published a draft code of how it proposes to regulate ISPs. The draft code is open to comments through July 30, which includes provisions for how ISPs should limit or cut off Internet access for those accused of illegally sharing files without permission from the copyright holder.

In its position pager, PRS for Music writes that a company called Detica has developed a system that provides an index of copyright infringement and "tracks over time the nature of plausibly illicit file sharing across a network."

The organization also suggests that an alternative would be to charge ISPs for blanket licenses and then let them "determine for themselves how best to capture the raw value of media on networks."

Aside from the opposition from ISPs, the plan would appear to have another stumbling block, which was noted in the paper. "In the United States and Europe, the ISP is not necessarily liable for the infringement of rights by their customers because of the safe harbors granted through e-commerce legislation," it said.

PRS for Music said that it would be necessary to revisit the "safe harbors" in order for rights holders to license the ISPs for file sharing on their networks.

PRS for Music argues that unlicensed exploitation of copyright provides no direct compensation to the creators of the works, but do provide value to those which transmit these content to the public.

The organization also contends there is "serious doubt" among stakeholders regarding net neutrality. "By enforcing neutrality in principle without respecting both the costs and the benefits of neutrality in practice, Britain's markets for both creative content and network connectivity find the common carrier spirit unsustainable."

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