Too often, illegal filesharing is seen as a ‘victimless crime’, with major media companies able to afford to pick up the tab. The reality is very different: without the revenue from the distribution of creative content, there will be fewer films, songs and TV programmes able to be commissioned. Job losses will be felt right across the chain, from production to distribution, from technicians to manufacturers and from logistics companies to staff in high street shops.
Our members are genuinely concerned about the impact illegal filesharing is having on the future of the entertainment industry. They worry that, in a rapidly changing world, there are diminishing incentives to produce quality works, and that the incentives will disappear altogether if those who do put their time, energy, talents and capital into creating quality works find that they are unable to gain any financial benefit because the works are pirated and distributed without any return for the creator.
We believe internet service providers (ISPs) hold the key to creating the step change necessary to tackle illegal file-sharing. It is the ISPs who have the direct relationship with customers, and all the evidence suggests that where a system is put in place for dealing with offenders, rates of piracy will fall dramatically. For the vast majority, simply drawing attention to the illegality of their actions would be sufficient to correct behaviours, and this should be backed by further action in respect of those who do not change their behaviour.
Clearly, informing the public about the impact of piracy is a key part of getting people to see the bigger picture. But the rate at which jobs are being undermined by this issue is too urgent for ISPs not to play their role. Just as they need new television, film and music to fuel engagement with the internet, so they should live up to their responsibility to those who work in the production of the content.
It is for that very reason that my trade union and others have joined forces with the creative industries, under the banner of the Creative Coalition Campaign, to speak with one voice in support of obliging ISPs to take technical measures against persistent illegal P2P filesharers. The graduated response to repeat offenders, sharing the cost of enforcement and setting out responsibilities will be just as useful to the ISPs as the content providers.
The Digital Economy Bill is a start, but it needs to stay in good shape as it progresses because the scale and nature of digital theft is reaching epidemic proportions and shows no signs of abating. Currently, it is estimated that over six million people illegally file-share regularly, and in relation to illegal downloads of TV programmes, for example, the UK is the world leader, with up to 25% of all online TV piracy taking place in the UK. This is a statistic that should fill us with about as much pride as having the highest rate of obesity in Europe, which would quite rightly prompt Government intervention.
As the recession continues, both workers and employers are looking intensively for ways to reinforce sources of revenue in the economy and to save jobs. Clearly the climate is a challenging one across many sectors, but this is why chances to prevent unnecessary losses of jobs, such as the proposed measures in the Digital Economy Bill, should be seized with both hands by industry and labour.
Christine Payne is Chair of the Creative Coalition Campaign and General Secretary of Equity