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Feargal Sharkey on the ISP filesharer MoU

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The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ISPs and the music business will lead to radically new "legal P2P" services, British Music Rights' Feargal Sharkey told us this morning. Licensing deals have already been signed, we reported recently.

The agreement between the music business and six of the UK's biggest ISPs will see OFCOM play the part of an "honest broker". The threat of legislation hangs over the two parties if they can't take things further. However, there's a subtle but significant shift in rhetoric, with the threat of broadband disconnection now conspicuous by its absence. Instead, ISPs have agreed to send out "hundreds and thousands" of nagging letters to broadband customers, according to the BPI. The letters will explain in "graphic terms", Sharkey says, the effect of file sharing on musicians and performers.

As we reported a month ago, the agreement follows the intervention of minister Baroness Vadera at the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR). So what's in it for the two parties - and us?

While ISPs will accept "responsibility" for unlicensed music downloads, they see cooperation as far more fruitful than a long stand-off or onerous legislation. They'll be particularly pleased to see disconnection take a back seat. Remember that for all their talk of "consumer rights", ISPs are only too happy to shove bandwidth-hogging downloaders over onto a competitor.

For their part, there's increasing recognition amongst the major labels that they need to bless radically different and attractive music services and offer them to broadband punters. That has long been recognized by publishers, collection societies and the independent sector - but winning the majors has taken over a decade.

Sharkey talked about a wide range of services, ranging from limited download bundles "for a couple of quid", all the way to universal access.

"If someone offered complete access to all of the music industry's catalogue, as much as you want of it, I'd be at the front of the bloody queue. And so would a lot of people," he said. Sharkey's BMR, which represents songwriters and composers, recently published research showing 80 per cent of downloaders would sign up for a legal, licensed P2P service.

"Seventy to 80 per cent of people would stop downloading illegally if they knew anyone was watching them doing it," he added.

"Ultimately that decision is down to the individual rights holders. But for the first time we have a clear commitment from all the record companies are committed. This is a first step, a small step, but a significant one," he told us.

Together with BMR chairman Andy Heath, Sharkey has lobbied vigorously to persuade government and ISPs of the value of constructive commercial partnerships, rather than enforcement. Sharkey says he has a lot of difficulties with Three Strikes' ultimate sanction of disconnection.

"Speaking personally, I'm still wrestling philosophically with how to engage with and sell to people you've disconnected in the first place. You need to provide them with the music they want, on a platform they want, at a price they want." ®

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