What do David Lammy, ISPs and a bar of soap have in common?

The IPKat read with interest a Times interview with David Lammy, Minister for Intellectual Property, Higher Education and Skills (though it’s not too clear where the interview stops and the commentary starts).

It appears that the interview as timed to coincide with Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, though that’s not coming out now until later in the week. However, at risk of giving at least part of the game away, Mr Lammy suggested that plans to force ISPs to cut the internet access of serial downloaders may have stalled. He pointed instead to the memorandum of understanding signed last July by ISPs and the music industry, which included ISPs sending out letters to those caught illegally downloading.

Mr Lammy noted:

“[Y]ounger people not quite buying into the system…We can't have a system where we're talking about arresting teenagers in their bedrooms. People can rent a room in an hotel and leave with a bar of soap - there's a big difference between leaving with a bar of soap and leaving with the television.”

An unnamed 'senior figure’ from the music industry noted:

“The relative cost of stealing a bar of soap from an hotel might be small, but if it came to seven million people nicking the soap each year, which is what we have in the music industry, I'm sure that hotel chain would do something about it.”

The IPKat is having trouble getting his head round Mr Lammy’s analogy. Surely it is theft to take bars of soap from hotel rooms, unless of course it’s one that you’ve started to use, but hotels turn a blind eye. Or perhaps the Kat is wrong, and there’s some sort of implied consent to the soap being taken – after all, the hotels have put it there in the knowledge that it is likely to be taken. Can some kind criminal lawyer help the IPKat’s poor brain?

What the IPKat is sure about though is that the music industry response just doesn’t work. The IPKat is sure that 7 million people do take soap from hotel rooms across the industry every year. The respondent is skewing the analogy by treating the music industry as one collective entity but dividing hotels into individual chains.

The Kat also notes the suggest in the article that Lord Carter may call from a levy on internet access to be paid to the music industry. The IPKat’s not too happy about this – what about the millions of people who don’t use the internet for downloading music and films, or those who already pay the music industry by sourcing legal downloads? Why should they pay?

What do David Lammy, ISPs and a bar of soap have in common? What do David Lammy, ISPs and a bar of soap have in common? Reviewed by Anonymous on Monday, January 26, 2009 Rating: 5


  1. The IPKat is not a exactly a huge fan of Mr Lammy, is he?

  2. If the record labels had been making horse-drawn carts in the early 20th century, they'd have called for a levy on cars.

    As distinct from, say, trying to work out how to develop new business models for the motor age. Where's the fun in that?

  3. I agree entirely with John H. The music industry should move with the times, accept the new challenges and find innovative ways to make money.

  4. Surely the flaw in the "bar of soap" analogy is that the hotel guest has paid for rental of the hotel room, and the bar of soap is left in return as a 'complimentary' gift for the guest's use. On the other hand, the television in the room (along with the bed, towels, dressing gown etc.) is left for the guest to use as part of the rental agreement, but not to take away.

    On the other hand, a file-sharer has not paid anything in return for the music being downloaded, except perhaps for his internet access. Mr Lammy's analogy should be more along the lines that file sharing is like recording the Pay-Per-View movies from the hotel television and then posting copies on the Internet, or perhaps even breaking into a hotel in order to do so. That would not, however, give such a neat distinction.

  5. Hotels and hotel chains have built the price of the 'courtesy' soap into their business model. They have monetised their soap. In fact every bar of soap NOT taken is probably a bonus. The recorded music industry has not, as yet, worked out any sort of effective business model to monetise copyrights in the digital age - although somewhere in the hot tub between Mr Lammy, Andy Burnham, the Recorded Industry Association of America and President Sarkozy is a business model waiting to happen. But who wants to look for the soap first ....

  6. The IPKat wasn't intending to be too critical of Mr Lammy here. To clarify, the comment about where the interview stops was more a reflection of the journalist than the Minister. The IPKat wasn't criticising the analogy employed by the Minster per se - it got the feline thinking but, like all analogies, he suspects it's flawed.

  7. In common? Like soap, they are all slippery, impossible to grasp, unpleasant if ingested, and will be washed away in time...

  8. The analogy made is as flawed as it possibly can be. It is worrying that the minister in charge of IP matters compares songs (that have the power to inspire us, to brighten up our day...) to a bar of (complementary) soap... worrying indeed.

  9. Whatever one might think about the analogy, Mr Lammy hits on a basic fact that lawmakers would do well to address. What is the social legitimacy of a legal monopoly (i.e. a mere policy instrument, as opposed to a natural right) that people breach without even realizing they committed a crime or, increasingly, consider it is not a crime to breach ?

    Moreover, as John H points out, it's quite unfortunate that legal monopolies that were supposed to protect and encourage innovation are actually used to thwart new technologies when they happen to disrupt existing business models.


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