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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Whitehall piracy plans - what a waste of time

Where have they been for the past 10 years?

Compiled at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham and dispatched to silicon.com via a commercial wi-fi connection.

For some unfathomable reason music piracy has found its way onto the UK government agenda. Clearly politicians think this is a big deal and likely to impress the electorate.

Warnings of dire consequences are being advertised for anyone caught pirating copyrighted materials, and ISPs are being instructed to take action in this apparently urgent war on illegal music file swapping.

It's a bit late, isn't it?

This might have been an appropriate bluster when Napster first came on the scene in the 1990s - but this war is long over and the music industry already lost hands down.

Who advises government in these things and where have they been these past 10 years?

Back in 2003 I wrote extensively on the digital challenges to the music industry - you can read more about it in that column.

These days I don't think I have met anyone with a computer who does not have some pirated music tracks. Not that legitimate music download services like iTunes aren't popular - they are. Thus most people have a delightful collection of digitised tapes, ripped and stripped CDs and pirated tracks, plus iTunes downloads. That's just the way it is.

Don't the government advisors understand anything? They can force ISPs to do whatever they want but those individuals that insist on pirating will continue and the ISPs won't see a thing.

With a modest dollop of technology, file swapping can be rendered invisible to ISP and government alike. Thus this momentary government problem is so very easy to circumvent.

And then of course there is the offline activity. Swapping files player-to-player, and phone-to-phone using Bluetooth, USB leads and memory sticks is so easy to do, costs nothing and is almost impossible to detect and track. So I bet loads of people are doing it.

Six years ago I wrote about the practice of MP3 shoplifting.

Most recently I came across a new mode that took me by surprise. I was visiting a friend in the US on the final day of my trip, and he asked me if I would like to take some content with me. I nodded, and he handed me a 1 terabyte hard drive, with the words: "You will find this fun!"

The drive was bundled into my luggage and I got around to taking a look at it about a week later. It was full of movies and music tracks - hundreds and hundreds of them!

This apparently is the newest mode. For less than $100 you can give a friend the gift of all your favourite movies and music. Now, is this any different to letting someone borrow your CD, DVD or Blu-ray collection? Bitwise this could rapidly outrank music downloads that tend to be limited by the pathetic bandwidth we enjoy under the title 'broadband'.

What happens next? I reckon we will soon have a new department of government inspectors visiting our homes to carefully check our hard drives, memory sticks, phones and music players to see if we have any pirated material. Then they will have to build new jails to house all the 'offenders'.

What a waste of time this all is.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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