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PRS man proposes piracy monitoring and net firm levy

By | Published on Thursday 15 July 2010

PRS For Music’s economist man Will Page has suggested British internet service providers should pay a levy into the content industries based on how much piracy occurs on their networks.

The proposal would partly compensate the record industry (and TV, film and gaming industries who, Page notes, will experience increased levels of piracy as broadband speeds increase), but ultimately provide an incentive for ISPs to find ways to ensure their users only access licensed content. This distinguishes Page’s idea from previous proposals that a levy should be applied to ISP subscriptions that legitimises all file-sharing.

The proposal, which would likely send the ISP sector’s rage levels to new heights if it were to be seriously considered by the music industry and/or government, comes in a paper penned by Page and a bloke called David Touve from Washington & Lee University.

It takes as its starting point a line in the Digital Economy Act which obligates OfCom to officially monitor piracy on the net, so to formally ascertain the level of the problem (most existing piracy figures come from agencies hired by record labels and film studios). Page and Touve’s logic is that if you are measuring piracy anyway, then it should be possible to quantify what each net firm should pay to compensate the content industries.

Page told CMU yesterday: “What co-author David Touve and I have been working on developing are market-based solutions to the harm caused by illegal file sharing over the internet. More importantly, we explore what legal options exist for recovering the value of that harm, and offer an economic framework that can be considered when structuring a resolution”.

The net firms, most of whom oppose the obligations already placed on them by the DEA with regards policing piracy, would likely lobby hard against any such compensation levy system if it were to be seriously considered. The most vocal ISP on this issue, TalkTalk, have already told Sky News that monitoring piracy on a level like that described by Page and Touve would pose huge technical problems and breach European privacy laws.

Meanwhile, a government spokesman wouldn’t comment on Page’s paper, except to tell the FT that he thought any monitoring and compensation system like that proposed would require new legislation, and such legislation has no place on the government’s current agenda. Still, Page’s ideas – even if not likely to become a reality – are interesting to consider, as are most of the things that come out of his office at PRS HQ. You can download the paper from this URL: