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Pop stars back 'Three Strokes' policy

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Another day, another joint statement from a bunch of artists.

This one comes from a number of signed artists who say they aren't the Featured Artists Coalition (but most of them are). The er, FAC members now say they too want a "graduated response" to internet copyright infringement, and have persuaded Lily Allen to sign up to it. And George Michael, too. But these aren't Strikes so much as Slaps, or maybe even Tickles.

In keeping with the shambolic events of the past fortnight, FAC says the statement that came from last night's FAC meeting isn't an official FAC statement. Er, OK. It recommends sending two warnings to a file sharer, then as a final step throttling the infringer's connection down to a slow speed.

"It's utterly impractical for infringers to be able to download any media file, in fact all they'll be able to do is send basic emails and have functional web access. Having just that for three months as a sanction is some kind of a stick, not the ultimate sanction of cutting people off from the internet - we remain opposed to that," said Billy Bragg.

So most of the "enforcement" strategy (and the quasi-legal bureaucracy necessary to implement it) will be in place, with the music business spending earnings that could otherwise go on investment on paralegal monitoring and letter-writing. The only difference from Mandelson's proposal is that the sanction is a bit of a wet fart. As veterans of the original Napster will recall, file sharing over dial-up speed connections isn't impossible, it's just slower.

UK Music, which represents a broader range of views from the business (managers, composers, musicians, publishers, labels) told us today it's policy of a 5-step "temporary suspension" was unchanged.

So why bother at all, we asked Jeremy Silver, FAC's chairman this morning, via email. Why have any strikes, or strokes? Why not two or four? Or none at all? He promised to call us back.

Five of the Featured Artist Coalition's eight "advisors" are music managers, who provided the inspiration for the spontaneous outpouring of concern. The group is a collection of wrinkly millionaires, youngsters (signed up to the advisory managers' management companies) and sign-anything stalwarts like Billy Bragg and davefromblur. Surely it won't be long before you can buy "Joint Statement" stationary pre-printed with their signatures?

The saga began with a declaration three weeks ago in the style of the Tooting Liberation Front, which appended the name of BASCA, the British Composers Society and Authors, without their approval. Lily Allen fired back. But apart from providing some comedy value, what was the point? It all looks like an opportunity missed.

While there's some merit in not making hardcore infringers into victims - it's a role they're absolutely dying to play, because bullies need to feel bullied - there's even more merit in not focusing on enforcement at all. Like backing the creation of new, paying markets from technology rather than arguing about sanctions - in other words, backing schemes that make money from sound recordings in new ways.

"Where is the licensed filesharing site?," asked one poster on the message board of newsletter Record of the Day. "Lily, bang down the doors of EMI and Universal Music Publishing and ask them why they haven't licensed Virgin Media's download service yet. Annie, ask Sony why I can't buy the entire Eurythmics catalogue as mp3s in one click - yet I can get it for free by typing Eurythmics discography torrent into Google."

So instead of pandering, it could have highlighted the major labels' anti-revenue strategy. FAC appears to lack the vision to do that, and is stuck in a philosophical no man's land where it can't enforce effectively, but it can't articulate the alternative to enforcement effectively, either.

Perhaps that's a good thing. Who says creators should speak with one voice, anyway? It's one of the few privileged places in society where you're not obliged to toe anybody's line. It's creepy to expect them to. ®

Andrew warmly welcomes your comments.

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