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How the music copyright debate turned into a copywrong farce

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(happygeek)
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When singer Lily Allen posted a passionate plea for people to stop illegally sharing music files, and started a dedicated blog where fellow pop stars could voice their concerns over the 'theft' of their work, you might have been forgiven for thinking it would just turn into the usual bunch of rich kids moaning about how unfair it was that they couldn't buy a second Ferrari this year. However, it quickly got much more interesting than that, thanks to a large dose of double standards on the part of Allen herself.

The trouble with setting yourself up as some kind of industry spokesperson when the debate is as explosive as the music sharing one, and proffering support for a three strikes and you are out law, is that you have to be pretty damn sure of your position. While there is certainly a goodly amount of honesty, passion and common sense in what Allen says on the subject all of that pretty much disappeared up the wazoo, hidden by a smokescreen of her own making. Allen lit the match by seeming to forget that copyright and intellectual property rights apply outside of the glitzy music business. It would appear that the 'It’s Not Alright' blogger rather unfortunately posted a message to kick the whole debate off which, while explaining that copyright infringement is a bad thing, itself infringed the copyright of the person who had actually written most of it and the news site where the cut and pasted paragraphs had originally been published. There was no hint that the first half of the message had been lifted entirely from the Techdirt site, nor that it had been written by someone else; no link back to them, no credit, nothing. Not only that, but as was quickly pointed out, the site also contained images of newspaper articles scanned and reproduced as entire pages.

No wonder supporters of file-sharing, journalists and other independent observers quickly piled in to accuse the singer of displaying a bad case of poor judgement and double standards. It almost seemed like the 'we work hard to create music, don't steal it' argument was existing in a bubble where other creatives and their work were not seen as valuable or worthy of equal protection.

To make matters worse, when the inevitable criticism started to hit the fan, Allen responded not with hands up in horror at such a glaring faux pas but instead with an apology that seemed to border on the 'it was a mistake, I've done nothing wrong' kind of argument that you might hear from, oh let's see, someone accused of music file-sharing. Allen posted a rebuttal, largely in shouty upper case text, which read

"I THINK ITS QUITE OVIOUS THAT I WASNT TRYING TO PASS OF THOSE WORDS AS MY OWN, HERE IS A LINK TO THE WEBSIITE I ACQUIRED THE PIECE FROM. Apologies to Michael Masnick.
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090914/0348436181.shtml"

The spelling mistakes are hers, not mine, dear reader. I note that she used the word 'acquired' rather than stole, funnily enough.

I would imagine it would be a different matter if Michael Masnick, the author of the copy that appeared on the site, were to post Lily Allen music clips on his site without crediting her as the artist, or posted those clips at all for that matter.

Also, funnily enough, that message is no longer available. Nor are any of the others that were posted to the Lily Allen blog either by Allen herself, fellow musicians such as Gary Barlow and Mark Ronson amongst others, or any of the people who commented either supporting or criticising her position. The blog has vanished, closed down by Allen it would appear according to her Twitter postings as "the abuse was getting too much."

All of which helps to perfectly illustrate just what is missing from much of the file-sharing debate, and that would be reasoned thought. There is far too much knee jerk reaction on both sides of the argument and not enough people prepared to think before they post. Only when the two camps can sit down and debate rationally will a reasonable solution emerge, and emerge it must if the music industry is to survive the business evolutionary stage it has found itself at in the 21st century.

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Davey Winder

I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .

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