The team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge, Stephen Jones, Mathilde Pavis, and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Hayleigh Bosher, Tian Lu and Cecilia Sbrolli.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Virgin/BPI letters arrive, student freeloaders object

Following the announcement a few weeks ago (see here) that Virgin Media would be sending out warning letters to some of their broadband customers, 800 of these letters have now been sent out across the UK. As reported on the Register and the BBC (here and here), one student customer has objected publicly about being labelled an Amy Winehouse fan, as the letter he received alleged that a track by the pop star was found to be linked to his internet account and he complained that he wasn't even a fan of her music.

(right: Merpel nervously receives her letters from Virgin Media)

This Kat heard the student in question on this morning's Today programme (sounding quite smug about all the publicity he has generated), and it sounded very much like there was a clear (perhaps deliberate?) misconception about what the letters allege. Unless the IPKat is very much mistaken, the allegations relating to file sharing are at the moment all about section 20(2) of the CDPA, which makes "the making available to the public of the work by electronic transmission in such a way that members of the public may access it from a place and at a time individually chosen by them" an infringing act. This is important because downloading itself, which everyone seems to be talking about, is not in itself an infringing act (although one could argue that the copy thereby created on your computer would be infringing). The act that the BPI are relying on is instead is that of making files available for others to download, which they can check by seeing which IP address is hosting which files. The IPKat finds it hard to imagine how a user cannot realise that their computer is set up for doing this, as it has to be done deliberately, and can only agree with the approach so far taken by Virgin and the BPI. This is, after all, a far cry from the heavy-handed approach taken by the US RIAA, which has resulted in some very bad press over the last few years.


Paul Jakma said...

Yes, the music industry would be much better off without those pesky students listening to its music for free..

More seriously, how long can this cat/mouse game, of the recording industry exploiting technical details to unmask music-file-sharers followed by P2P software sprouting features to further obscure who is sharing what, go on? Who'll go bust first, the file-sharers or the music industry?

E.g. there are redundant, internet-distributed file-systems in which the file-server stores apparently random data - the client just needing to which blocks to combine together, for some results. This, reduced, combining information need then just be distributed over an anonymity-network such as Tor (which is otherwise not well-suited for transfering actual data-blocks).

Essentially, this battle is causing the technology to converge on fully anonymous file-sharing. Will the technology reach that goal, will the industry even survive to make the question matter?

Further, such technology will be a boon to sharers of illicit material far worse than mere music. Should we be spurring on the development of that technology simply to save an industry that may well be doomed anyway (as we know it at least)?

David said...

An anonymous commenter writes:

"I have to say that I disagree with you entirely.

This will create nothing but bad press for Virgin Media - it goes against everything that the Virgin brand has strived to hold itself out as over the years: youthful, enterprising, rebellious, dynamic etc yet more importantly it goes against everything that young consumers identify with.

Relevant users will leave Virgin Media (I have - although I would not classify myself as a "young consumer"...) and the damage done to the wider Virgin brand (due to association with this action) will be irreparable.

Of course I agree on the technical legal view that to file share is to breach the CDPA but will students and other young people who are sharing music with their mates/on-line community acquaintances care?

No. Of course they wont.

They will see a fat cat corporate ruining all the fun. Damage to Virgin brand - done (a la Gordon Ramsay).

Virgin should have stayed well away from this and kept on pretending that it was nothing to do with them/they have no control over what users do etc etc.

I would love to know if Virgin are pursuing this matter further (only) to its agreement to sell off the Virgin Record shops...."

Chris Hemingway said...

I'm not convinced that a user would be unaware that his computer was filesharing as there are a number of programs that can be installed covertly that could allow precisely this - see the Wikipedia entries on 'Botnet' or 'Zombie computer' for example.

Indeed, the BBC website had a report a few days ago on how quickly an unprotected computer can become compromised, and could therefore be used for such purposes.

Who is the infringer in such circumstances I wonder? Perhaps not the host user as arguably they were not the ones who 'made the file available' - that would be the hacker who set up the machine as a zombie. I'm not sure this would work as a defence though ...

David said...

Another commenter writes to the IPKat to say:

"There would seem to be at least three flies in the BPI's ointment here. First, as I understand it, both bittorrent and the more oldfashioned sharing platforms such as Limewire are not totally slaves to demand. An uploader will I think only upload when there is enough bandwidth for him to upload, so the time of upload is not individually chosen by the downloader who may well have to queue. Second, I am sure that many users have dynamically allocated IP addresses. Third, the default configuration of may file sharing platforms is to share all media of certain types, or all media that are downloaded, and downloaders may well not realise that unless the configure otherwise they automatically become uploaders too."

Paul Jakma said...

ISPs keep logs of which addresses were assigned to which users and when. There is an EU Data Retention directive which requires it of them, which the UK no doubt has implemented.

Neither Bittorrent nor LimeWire require uploading. However Bittorrent is designed so that nodes which upload have priority on blocks to download - ie if one does not upload, the speed of download may be quite low.

Most Bittorrent and Gnutella (protocol used by limewire) clients by default make downloaded files available for upload. So less technically sophisticated file downloaders will be prone to accidently sharing files..

Anonymous said...

The debate over P2P is interesting but somewhat irrelevant.

The real threat to the music industry is BluRay discs (capacity 50G ~10,000 songs) and portable hard drives (capacity 100G+). The next time I go to Thailand all I need to do is pick up a couple of pirate BluRay discs and, voila, I have the whole of the major's back catalogue in one swoop. Perhaps I might also share those discs with a few friends.

This is what the RIAA etc should worry about. In contrast, imagine how long it would take you to download 10,000 songs on Limewire......


Paul Jakma said...


With a common 8MBit/s DSL connection, 50GiB can be downloaded in 50/1/3600 = 14 hours. That's less than the travel time to Thailand, never mind the round-trip, and *much* cheaper. In time, with FTTH, consumers may commonly have 100MBit/s connections (see parts of Sweden and Korea) and the equivalent of that 50GiB BluRay disc could be downloaded in just over an hour.

To re-state a point made before: Internet == information sharing (i.e. copying) machine of unprecedented efficiency..

Paul Jakma said...

Meh, transcription error in the working for "14 hours". Should have been "50*1024/1/3600", of course.

Anonymous said...

(i) you won't find 10,000 songs available as a single download on the net as the BPI/RIAA would jump all over any site making them available;
(ii) you will therefore have to download them individually from a P2P network which would be a slow and painful business (I think it would in fact be quicker to go to Thailand);
(iii) moreover by pirating material on the net you risk being traced by the BPI/RIAA. In contrast my BluRay from Thailand is undetectable and untraceable;
(iv) you could probably get your pirate BluRay from the dodgy guy in the pub so you wouldn't necessiarly have to go to Thailand (though the ladyboys in my local are somwhat less appealing).
In the final analysis, BluRay is going to rip up the music business in a much more profound way than P2P ever did.

Paul Jakma said...

i) It's unlikely to all be music, never mind my favourite music, but a popular torrent-search site counts 529k results under the 'audio' category.

ii) You may wish to update your software, as I can just click on .torrent link to have my BitTorrent software begin downloading it.

iii) As per my first comment: the trend in P2P software, ever since the Napster case, has been to obfuscate P2P transactions ever further in response to more sophisticated rights enforcement actions. Todays P2P software most definitely is not the final word in anonymous file-sharing..

iv) I can imagine many people would be more inclined to using P2P software than visiting dodgy pubs, not least teenagers and young adults.

Sorry for the technical technology discussion here, but a large part of the problem today is that business leaders and legislators have acted without regard for the opinion of technologists and legislated in the belief that the efficiency of digital reproduction via the internet, and so its effects on business models vested in there being a high-cost of reproduction and so a controllable supply of media, can be quashed with a bill..

Anonymous said...

Clearly we are not going to agree on this one...
However, I still think piracy by BluRay will offer a more compelling "consumer experience" than some weird torrent based dark net. Therefore it is more of a threat.
Perhaps we should resume this debate in 12 months time!

Paul Jakma said...


I guess so, and yes we should - though how will I ever know if I'm arguing with same person again? :)

I'll end by noting the DSL/BluRay argument has precedent - dial-up/CDROM was about same ratio, yet today we're discussing P2P..

Anonymous said...

I hope that this is not limited just to the UK, We are in Europe and if every country including the USA, Canada are not all governed by the same law its unfair.

I use torrents not for music, so if receive a letter i will take them to the small claims court, just because I can.

If the music industry want to stop piracy then may be in the UK they could sell downloads at a realistic price.

I'd rather make 5 pence then no money, if people could buy a Album for 4.99 Im sure they would not bother stealing, or better still buy a license for a few pounds and no matter what or where you downloaded the music from you could listen to it.

Anonymous said...

Guys you're missing the point. Encrypted usenet is the way forward. You don't share anything, just download and your isp has no way of telling what...... Thailand is nice for a holiday though :)

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