Virgin Media considering legal file-sharing?

The stage seems set for the introduction of a legal file-sharing system for music in the UK, with reports linking pioneering online site, Playlouder, with Virgin Media in hatching such a plot.

Take it back. The whispering began last night when PaidContent’s Robert Andrews revealed, “One of the UK’s top ISPs is preparing to launch an unlimited music service that would see it pay record labels for songs illegally downloaded by its customers.”

Playlouder has experience of running a form of service similar to this and has been bought in to provide expertise for the plan, the report suggests. And, while Virgin Media hasn’t been definitively linked to the plan, that the two companies engaged in talks last month lends a little soupcon of weight to these new claims.

These moves follow the recent file-sharing policing deal between the music labels and ISPs – and the need to develop and evolved a legitimate alternative (thought Music Ally’s ‘Future of Music Retail’ report suggests music execs need to get even closer to fans than this).

Playlouder’s service lets users legitimately download from file-sharing networks, but these downloads are tracked by the ISP in order to furnish song royalties to rights holders. Legal file-sharing in which everyone gets paid, for a fee of just £5 per month, apparently.

Jupiter Research analyst, Mark Mulligan, reflects on the news, “If the story is accurate it suggests that the labels consider the state of the music market and the fight against piracy to be in real trouble.”

He points out that the move may undermine some legitimate music services, and could set other precedents over time, for example, what happens if a user picks-up a virus off of a file-sharing network they are using legitimately through their ISP. Who would then be responsible?

All the same, this plan tempts this commentator to reflect on Napster 1 founder, Shawn Fanning, who in ’99 wandered round labels in an attempt to secure rights to legitimately offer music over the file-sharing network, arguing that low cost per track would equate to huger profits in the future? Why did it take almost a decade for anyone to listen?

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