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U2 frontman bitchslapped by TalkTalk

Bono bloody Bono

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TalkTalk has branded U2 windbag Bono's intervention in the debate over illegal filesharing "outrageous", after he said efforts to block child pornography showed ISPs should be doing more to protect intellectual property.

As part of his latest execrable, relentlessly pretentious sermon* for the New York Times' op-ed section, Bono accused internet firms of profiting from copyright infringement** and refusing to take technical measures against it.

"We're the post office, [ISPs] tell us; who knows what's in the brown-paper packages?," he wrote.

"But we know from America's noble effort to stop child pornography, not to mention China's ignoble effort to suppress online dissent, that it's perfectly possible to track content."

Today, TalkTalk, which through a well-funded PR campaign has been the most vocal opponent of the Digital Economy Bill, hit back.

The Bill, currently under consideration by the House of Lords, will introduce bandwidth caps and disconnections for internet users believed to be persistently infringing copyright via peer to peer networks

"It is outrageous to equate the need to protect minors from the evils of child pornography with the need to protect copyright owners. As a society we have accepted that it is appropriate and proportionate to intrude on people's internet use by blocking access to sites that host child abuse images," said Andrew Heaney, TalkTalk's regulatory boss.

"To suggest that sharing a music file is every bit as evil as child abuse beggars belief," Heaney added.

Indeed it does, although - and here's a phrase not often used in intelligent society - in Bono's defence that's not really what he said.

Also somewhat disingenuous is TalkTalk's claim that ISPs do not make money from filesharing and in fact that they "incur some marginal cost due to the extra bandwidth required". Of course, in a strictly direct sense it's true - ISPs would make more money if their subscribers used their connections less - but without free music how many fewer broadband connections would have been sold in the first place?*** Internet industry figures admit in private it would be significant.

Heaney attacked from safer ground by referencing the availability of encrypted filesharing networks. He added: "Bono obviously does not understand how simple it is to access copyright protected content without being detected.

"P2P filesharing can be spotted (albeit at great cost) but there are dozens of applications and tools out there which allow people to view content for free and no amount of snooping can detect it."

You can usefully exchange "Bono" for the "the government" there, since Westminster is the real target of TalkTalk's statement. At the moment the campaign appears unlikely to succeed however, as the Digital Economy Bill was one of few in the Queen's Speech to enjoy the support of the two main parties. It might be stalled by an early election, but similar laws are likely under a Tory government.

Meanwhile angry critics of Bono himself should bear in mind his views are no surprise. U2 Inc, led by manager Paul McGuiness, has been campaigning on the issue in public for two years.

Perhaps, wherever we stand on the filesharing debate, we can all ignore him again now. ®

*A typical example from his first effort in January last year: "I'm back in my own house in Dublin, uncorking some nice wine, ready for the vinegar it can turn to when families and friends overindulge, as I am about to.

"Right by the hole-in-the-wall cellar, I look up to see a vision in yellow: a painting Frank sent to me after I sang 'I've Got You Under My Skin' with him on the 1993 'Duets' album. One from his own hand. A mad yellow canvas of violent concentric circles gyrating across a desert plain. Francis Albert Sinatra, painter, modernista."

**An economic mechanism Bono gives the barbaric label "reverse Robin Hooding".

***First commenter to mention Linux distros wins a copy of the GPL.

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