Four months ago lots of people were getting worked up about the possibility that the UK Government might somehow enforce a "three strikes and you're out" policy for Internet filesharers. I was asked to write an opinion piece about it myself, but more about that in a bit. At that time, the BPI — the organisation that represents major record labels in the UK — was quoted as favouring a "we do the policing, you send the letters" deal with ISPs, and as saying "we've been asking ISPs for more than 18 months to introduce a system to warn their customers (twice) before pulling the plug on them. But we haven't had much success and our faith in negotiations is running thin."
Four months on, and it's interesting to see how a BPI deal with the Virgin Media ISP is being reported. The deal is for an "education campaign" that will see users who share files illegally receive, not a warning or a disconnection notice, but "practical advice on how to prevent internet account misuse, links to legitimate sites and the potential dangers… of viruses and spyware." This last quote is from Music Week coverage [subscription required], which hails it as "a giant leap forward in [the BPI's] efforts to stop illegal file-sharing on the internet by signing a landmark deal" (my emphasis). I don't know about you, but after all that sabre-rattling, sending out letters politely informing criminals (in heavy quote marks) that there are alternatives to crime seems like quite a comedown.
Clearly the game isn't over yet, and — to mix my metaphors — one creates hostages to fortune by projecting that the winner of a battle will be the winner of the war. But that's perhaps my main point, because there is a lot of pressure both in mainstream media and in blogs to get worked up into a lather and over-react to minor or short-term skirmishes. I wrote about this under the title of slow blogging on my DJ Alchemi blog recently. As with the Radiohead hoo-ha that I referenced there, I suspect that the whole three-strikes ruckus will, with hindsight, seem like a minor skirmish in the broader sweep of events. (The fuss was whipped up over the implication that the Government, not just the BPI, was in favour of regulating for three-strikes — but firm evidence of this support didn't exist then, and hasn't appeared since.)
With that preface, here is what I wrote on 12 February, trying to anticipate the different ways the scenario might play out, and to analyse the deeper trends that this skirmish brought to the surface. It was commissioned by the Daily Telegraph though they didn't run it in the end.