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Fast answers aren't good answers

If the Federation Against Software Theft is serious about wanting to label file sharers as 'black sheep', it is baa-king up the wrong tree

We can understand his frustration. When John Lovelock, head of the Federation Against Software Theft, gazes out over the internet, he must feel like an Avon and Somerset Constabulary sniffer dog sitting downwind of the Glastonbury Festival.

Sin on that kind of scale is daunting for even the most ardent believer: even when individuals are brought to book, the results are momentary, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable.

So, while quoting a figure of $1bn a year lost to online file-sharing and in-business copying — although even Fast doesn't know how that's divided — Lovelock also characterises the court system as archaic, long-winded and expensive: in other words, there's no return on investment in going to law. Instead, he'd like to throw offenders off the internet by finding them and getting them disconnected by a word in the ISP's ear.

The file sharers, he says, are an industry indulging in "a livelihood to rip off people's genuine livelihood".

These are not cogent reasons for an organisation to assume the quasi-judicial status he relishes, with the power to brand users as "black sheep" denied access to the internet. That's assuming such a thing was either possible or desirable, two points where even Lovelock declines a debate on the details.

Fast has a much bigger problem. Like the peaceful tokers at a rock festival, the people he seeks to control do not buy into the idea that what they're doing is all that wrong. The law can only work when most people agree with it, and bypassing the law does nothing to help here.

When the big dogs of the software industry show that they behave in ways most people agree are right, then Fast will no longer need to deal in uncertain figures and implausible arguments.

The organisation desperately wants to be seen as reasonable. It is hindered in this by some of its sponsors, who are seen as anything but, and not helped by floating ideas of extralegal banishment. Using unlicensed software is wrong: but while it is perceived as a lesser evil, John Lovelock, like Constable Fido, will remain outside the fence impotently looking in.