UK TV/Film Stars Urge ISPs to Stop Piracy

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A group of British actors, directors and producers have written an open letter to The Times newspaper. Their concern – downloads of TV episodes and films. What is needed, they claim, is for the government to force the ISPs to do something about it.

The UK is a major player in the TV and film industry. While only a few films are made in the UK, British actors and directors have a major place in the world entertainment business. Now, a number of British writers, directors and producers have sent an open letter to The Times, asking that something be done about TV and film downloads.

While some producers, directors and actors actually believe that BitTorrent and other filesharing tools help to boost the fanbase of films and TV-shows, this group disagrees. Signed by a staggering 116 names including the likes of directors Sir Alan Parker, Mike Leigh and supported by several entertainment industry groups, the letter claims:

At a time when so many jobs are being lost in the wider economy, it is especially important that this issue be taken seriously by the Government and that it devotes the resources necessary to enforce the law.

Ignoring for a moment that notably they make no mention of job losses in their sector, one of the problems with their demands is that the law they seek to enforce is civil law, not criminal.

Beyond employing judges there is nothing more that the government can do to enforce it. That is the problem with copyright law, it’s hard to know what’s legitimate and what’s not, what can be copied and what can’t, without checking with the rights holders first. This was exemplified perfectly earlier this year, when the IFPI sent out takedown notices for Travis tracks, despite the actual copyright holders, Travis, having already given permission to distribute.

The bigger problem comes from their data, the 98 million illegal downloads and streams. While we know TV shows are popular, our own data shows that British TV rarely features in the top 10. Movie downloads are more fleeting, with a certain bias towards the newest films, with a few exceptions. Their figures are also questionable; while we count downloads, we can’t quantify them with a figure for the UK.

Yet, if their stats on downloads are of questionable accuracy, it’s nothing compared to the power they ascribe to the ‘almighty ISP’. They believe that ISPs have the power to stamp out file sharing, stopping people from downloading TV shows and movies; they just need a prod. In this belief they are sadly mistaken.

Again, recent news has shown how hard it is to control access to even one image in the UK, on a cut-and-dried subject like child pornography. Being able to determine if something is infringing copyright or not would require huge lists of content, and real-time examination of all Internet traffic. Not just deep packet inspection, but an all-invasive Big Brother monitoring system, beyond the dreams of even the most totalitarian dictator.

Of course, those that bother to check facts know that not only is such a thing illegal (criminally illegal, not just civil) but that the tools they’ll want to use just don’t work. The problem is highlighted by Michael Malone, CEO of ISP iiNet, currently under attack from various movie studios, “I think they genuinely believe that ISPs have a secret magic wand that we are hiding and if we bring it out we can make piracy disappear just by waving it.”

And, when just this year it was reported that UK commercial TV broadcasters “enjoyed a bumper April with the highest viewing figures in five years”, that total TV viewing was up 10% year-on-year, and “the valuable yet hard-to-reach 16 to 24-year-old demographic [i.e the typical file-sharer] watched 4.9% more commercial TV in April year-on-year and saw 12% more ads,” you have to wonder exactly what the problem is.


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