Although The British Video Association's (BVA) director general, Lavinia Carey, admits piracy has always been a concern for the film industry, she is aware of what's coming. "We haven't seen anything like the damage [that is to come] yet. It's just around the corner," she told ZDNet.
The BVA claims that both the EU and the government are dragging their feet in bringing through legislation to protect against online piracy. "We are lobbying hard in Brussels, but the government seems unaware of the potential damage approaching," Carey said.
Carey is pinning her hopes on the Copyright Directive, which is currently going through the European Parliament. An ISPA (Internet Service Providers Association) spokesman told ZDNet there is "strong hope that an agreement [on the details of the Directive] will be reached in May". However, the Directive is unlikely to make it into UK law until early next year. Even if it does, it seems unlikely there will be anything in the final Copyright Directive UK bill to prevent the development of Napster-style software.
And while the music industry has been fighting online piracy since the arrival of Diamond's Rio MP3 player, the rest of the software industry has been somewhat complacent, putting its faith in the UK's bandwidth constraints. But things change quickly online, as Thursday's blueyonder broadband rollout illustrated.
By the end of the year, Telewest (quote: TWT) is expecting 40,000 broadband subscribers. A spokesman points out that these people now have the ability to download an "MP3 track in under a minute and a minute of video in just eight minutes".
Laurence Westwood, manager for copyright and legal services at FAST, admits this dramatically ups the ante for software publishers. With the advent of broadband across the UK, Westwood asks "would you just download your software from the Internet, or go and buy it for £500 from a shop?"
Such esoteric legal wranglings often obscure the real harm programmes such as Napster can do. As the British Publishers Association's communications manager, Alex Webb, points out, "what this ultimately means is that the artist doesn't get paid."
In a fairytale twist to the whole story, the community spirit engendered by programmes such as Napster may actually have a role to play in reducing piracy. Aside from a fairly high technical competency, one of the strongest unifying factors for Napster users is a love of music. "Most of these users are music fans, and none of them want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg," said Webb.
Once users understand the implications of such programmes, they are, according to Webb, far less likely to contribute to illegal copying. To back up his theory, he points to the RIAA's recent campus roadshow. The organisation found that when educated to the problems caused by MP3, a majority of users said they would prefer to buy legal copies.
This attitude may even mean that Napster has a part to play in driving music sales. "I first heard that girl from Kenickie's new single using Napster, but because it's important to support the artists, I went out and bought it the next day," recalled one avid Napster user.
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