Digital content piracy needn’t be about the internet. Peter Cochrane asks what’s left for an industry that has lost control of distribution…

Entirely by chance I am sat in a coffee shop of a book and music store in Toronto reading an article that features the chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This includes a picture of him holding a CD declaring that MP3 wars are over because their much-publicised prosecution of pirates and downloaders has resulted in a decline in the number of net downloads during the past month.

So it is with a sense of complete irony I sit observing a group of young people just two tables away with a laptop and an assortment of MP3 players. In turn a member of the group is despatched to the music section to return with a CD that is taken out of the box and slipped into the laptop. It is then obviously ripped and stripped in full public gaze and distributed among the portable devices on the table. This is the most blatant scene of digital shoplifting I have ever witnessed.

I sit for an hour drinking coffee and observing these youngsters go about the business of collecting music tracks for free. There are security cameras, sales staff and at least one security man walking the floor. The coffee bar waitress happily keeps serving cokes and coffee as the group continues to plunder. They seem totally unabashed and unaware that I am observing them. I am now faced with something of a moral dilemma – do I grass on these kids or do I just continue observing?

This turns out to be a difficult decision because I am not on my own. I