E-Business: Time to Face the Music on Downloads

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Pain

Those who download songs and software from so called 'peer to peer' websites may soon find themselves facing the music under new copyright laws, according to Birmingham e-biz law expert Andrew Sparrow.

Introduced on October 31, the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 are designed to update copyright protection for the digital world.

Record companies could be the first to use the rules to sue not only those who operate music sites, but also those who register with them. Mr Sparrow, head of Lecote Solicitors, the Birmingham-based new media law firm, said: 'The European Parliament and Council Directive has been introduced to harmonise certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society.

'In the UK it has been adopted as the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003.

'It is designed to clarify the rights of reproduction, distribution and communication to the public over the Internet.

'In addition, it sets legal guidelines for anti-piracy measures that copyright holders can implement.

'The Regulations contain provisions which could be used by the record industry which has been suffering the ravages of Internet file sharing. File sharing enables users to download music tracks and software items for free.

'The technology has hit record company revenues hard and the number of online users of sites continues to rise.'

Mr Sparrow said that the industry was successful in the US against Napster, shutting down the famous music site.

'However, many feel that the best ammunition the industry has is the ability to sue, or threaten to sue, the actual users of file sharing sites -which means those who routinely download their favourite music tracks in seconds,' he added. 'The process, of course, means that in the majority of cases royalties are not earned by artists and the record companies do not earn revenue for the works.'

Explaining the background to the impact of file sharing websites, he said: 'Swapping music online, where there is no central database, has become a huge problem for the record industry.

'For example, the number of copies of KaZaa software loaded on to PC's has risen to an estimated 278 million, making it one of the most downloaded programmes in the world.

'There are an estimated60 million registered users. KaZaa maintain that they are simply distributing licenced content.

'Many of the music tracks are free because they have been illicitly downloaded from websites, or burned from CD's or DVD's. …