In my recent post on the music industry in the digital age, I noted that record labels and musicians would need to deal with the challenges of digital piracy pragmatically, but also argued that consumers would eventually need to recognize that there could be unintended consequences to their actions.
I pointed out that consumers would inevitably reap what they sow.
Interestingly enough, four news items have arisen highlighting this fact.
"Virgin Media looks set to become the first British internet company to crack down on customers who download music illegally."
The ISP is set to voluntarily implement a pilot "three strikes and you're out" policy that would have the Virgin Media internet accounts of habitual illegal downloaders closed if they continue to download pirated content after receiving warnings.
Record labels and ISPs in the UK have been in discussions about such a system for some time without reaching an industry-wide agreement.
Under the pilot with Virgin Media, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) will provide Virgin Media with the information needed to identify illegal downloaders and Virgin Media will take the required action to warn them and suspend and terminate their internet access if needed.
In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is calling for a system that aims to filter pirated content:
Jim Williams, the MPAA's chief technology officer and senior vice president, said on Thursday that it's in the best interests of Internet providers to sift through data traveling across their networks and interrupt transmissions that violate copyright law.
"Much of the Internet is being clogged up with stolen goods," Williams said at a technology policy conference here. "Basically you have a bunch of free riders who are hogging the bandwidth (and taking) it away from legitimate consumers."
Comcast has already been experimenting and its filtering of BitTorrent traffic drew the ire of customers and the "content just wants to be free" types. Comcast is now working with BitTorrent to create a less discriminatory network management policy.
In January, AT&T announced that it was working with the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and would be conducting tests with technologies designed to filter pirated content.
News.com's Declan McCullagh reports that Rep. Howard Berman, a Congressman who represents a district near Hollywood, stated at a technology policy conference that the Pro-IP Act was on track to be passed by the end of 2008.
The bill, if passed, would increase civil penalties for copyright infringement and would also create a federal agency "charged with bringing about a national and international copyright crackdown."
Berman voiced his opinion that the bill is not very controversial but also noted that "There are people who want to steal intellectual property. Their lobby is distributed, diffuse, but unfortunately very popular."
In an interview with Portfolio.com, Warner Music Group's Jim Griffin revealed that he is working on a plan that would potentially see an ISP-level fee that would assist the recording industry recoup the money it's losing to illegal downloaders.
As part of the plan, the details of which are still somewhat sketchy, users would potentially be able to download unlimited amounts of music.
Noting that "today, it has become purely voluntary to pay for music" and that "the music business has become a big tip jar," Griffin touted this proposal as a means to end the RIAA lawsuits and to "monetize the anarchy of the internet."
Although described by man as a "tax," the possibility was raised that the program would be opt-in.
Record labels are increasingly warming up to the concept of "music as a service" and ISPs are reportedly interested in ways that they can reduce their potential liabilities from piracy.
Not surprisingly, Griffin's comments sparked a firestorm, forcing him to note that the plan mentioned to Portfolio.com is just one of a number of possible solutions being explored.
But for somebody who seems to relish telling record labels and musicians that they need to get real about the "new economy" (of piracy), the news above should serve as a warning to consumers who need to get real about the consequences of their actions.
Regardless of whether or not these possible plans are successfully implemented, one thing is clear: rights holders are realistically not going to stand by while their intellectual property is stolen. Perhaps they'll go down, but they're not going down without a fight.
More importantly, the reaction of rights holders to the flagrant disregard many consumers have for intellectual property may result in a more restrictive internet.
Clearly, that's not healthy for the internet as a whole and it's not what consumers were aiming for.