File Sharing, Next Generation

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Every country handles peer-to-peer downloading differently. Here in the US, in federal court this week, four high level members of the website "Rabid Neurosis" were indicted on music piracy charges. "Rabid Neurosis" is a website that operated from 1996 to 2007. It was infamous for uploading illegal music files months before their official CD release date. According to federal prosecutors, the early supply of music often came from music industry insiders at radio, press and retail, who gave pre-released material to the site. If convicted, the four indicted members could face up to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, controversy erupted following the UK government's plan to suspend internet access to anyone who engages in illegal file sharing. The debate for cutting off file traders was argued by artists themselves. On one side you had the Featured Artist Coalition, which includes many high profile recording artists, like Travis, KT Tunstall, Sia and Radiohead. The Coalition argued for peer-to-peer file sharing. While the group admits that file sharing has been detrimental to record sales, they say it has also stimulated remarkable growth in live ticket sales. Ed O'Brien from Radiohead argued that file sharing leads to music discovery, which leads to concert attendance and merchandise sales.

But singer Lilly Allen attacked the Coalition, calling its membership filled with "rich and successful artists… at the back end of [their] career". Ms. Allen makes the point that new artists do not have the financial luxury of giving away all their music.

The argument became so heated that the UK government has backed down from any demands to disconnect illegal file-sharers.

And as England ponders the pros and cons of illegal file sharing, Japan is considering a more drastic measure with mobile. In Japan, in just two years' time, it is possible that every mobile phone will prohibit illegally obtained music.

Japan's mobile market is one of the fastest growing in the world and music drives the engine. Unlike here in America, in Japan over 90% of all music downloads last year were for mobile phones. The mobile phone is how Japanese listen to music.

Under the newly proposed system, using special software, phone networks would monitor downloading activity, confirming the legality of a song's copyright. If the file is found to be illegal, the song won't play.

Both the British and Japan's solutions for curtailing illegal downloading make the Internet service provider the judge and jury on illegal file sharing. Here in the US, having a network provider monitor our downloads would never work. Americans want the freedom to roam wherever they want on the web and download what they want.

So the digital solution here must reflect that lifestyle choice.

Simply put a small toll at the top of the monthly Internet service bill and let music lovers download to their hearts content. Pay artists pennies on the dollar, but they'll capture all the pennies. It's a far better solution that having music fans serving jail time, lose their Internet service or entire record collection. Survival should not be the objective. A sustainable economically reasonable solution for all is the only way to look at it.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.