Is it a bird? Is it a plane? no it's…the British Phonographic Institute. And it doesn't fly. Unlike the real Superman, the music industry body has not been endowed with god-like powers to change the very fabric of time, space and established law – just a vociferous PR department.
The latest example of the group attempting to make time stand still occurred this week when the BPI announced that, not content with taking legal action against file-sharers itself, it thinks that ISPs should do its questionable work for it. BPI chairman Peter Jamieson issued an unequivocal missive calling on Tiscali and Cable & Wireless to “put their house in order and pull the plug” on some 59 Internet users for illegal file-sharing. Unsurprisingly, the ISPs demurred, saying that BPI had provided virtually no evidence that any wrongdoing has taken place.
Tiscali was extremely unlikely to play ball with the BPI anyway, as the music industry had recently forced the ISP to cancel its Juke Box legal peer-to-peer streaming music service. “Clearly the major labels don’t understand the business potential of a service like Tiscali Juke Box which, by acknowledging and paying the rights for all songs being listened to in streaming mode, safeguards the rights of the industry and the artists,” Tiscali said at the time.
The kind of thinking that would pull the rug on an innovative new business model while trying to threaten the same company into cutting off its own customers is not one that's fit for the 21st Century. We can only conclude that the BPI’s motivation is not to recruit ISPs into its witch-hunt against file-sharers, but rather create the appearance in the eyes of lawmakers that service providers are complicit in some kind of organised crime. We look forward to the BPI calling on British Airways to stop holidaymakers flying back from Thailand because they might be carrying cheap CDs — we do not look forward to other companies in other industries telling ISPs to disconnect their customers because other sorts of licensing conditions have been breached.
The BPI could have chosen a stick-and-carrot approach by nurturing its relationship with Tiscali and encouraging the Juke Box service as a legal alternative to illegal filesharing. With its blinkered and one-track approach the BPI has left the ISPs and file-sharers with nowhere to go. The BPI may not have X-ray vision, but one day it’s going to realise that hindsight is 20:20.