Not strictly legal....

Most people accept that hard work is of value, and that people are well within their moral rights to ask for payment for their work.

Most people accept the premise of intellectual property, but growing sections of the public (the young, in particular) are rejecting the way intellectual property rights are applied. As IT professionals are increasingly being used as enforcers, maybe it's time to say it isn't working.

The record industry, some feel, is not playing fair. Copyright originally came about to protect great labours. Today the costs of producing an artistic work in the form of a music track vary just as wildly as the profits.

An artist may have laboured for decades, or they may throw something together in a couple of hours. The equipment needed is also much cheaper and more widely available. It seems a cheek, then, to demand money to copy something for free when the originator has already recouped their costs 1000 times over.

This is used as a justification by many people, who are otherwise law-abiding, for feeling comfortable with habitually breaking copyright law.

I'm not talking about systematic attempts to make money from copyright breach, but the casual copying that has become socially acceptable to many under 30 (and quite a few over 30). I tried the standard 'London Cabbie' test, and was in effect told copyright breach was 'well, not strictly legal' but not wrong.

Perhaps part of the issue is the way some corporations argue the point. The 'stealing money from musicians' approach leaves me cold. For a start, breach of copyright is not theft; it's breach of copyright.

Secondly, even though I'm a great fan of U2 and I like a lot of the work that Bono does (pro Bono, as it were), I can't be made to feel passionately about the hardship the band might face if I breached their copyright. When it comes to the recording industry itself, for which I feel no personal attachment whatsoever, it's even harder.

It's not as if I have an issue with record companies turning a profit - I have a private pension which relies on companies turning a decent profit just like many people do.

Generally speaking, record companies don't even turn profits that are unreasonable in the context of publicly listed companies. They invest huge amounts on developing and marketing the artists and, contrary to popular opinion, this is both expensive and hard work.

Yet styling these lumbering corporations as victims simply doesn't work. I can't help but see them as having failed to adapt to new technology, evolve their products and develop new business models; a market failure they have let happen.

It could be argued that the market is now setting the price through a sort of mass rebellion. Using copyright law against the criminal few is what it is there for, but using it as a cudgel to bash the wider public for rejecting the premise is just foolish. Companies are in effect threatening their customers, risking alienation. Not a long-term strategy, it seems to me.

I don't believe this justifies breaching copyright - it is still breaking the law. If you feel a law is wrong, you obey the law while campaigning to change it. However the fact that so many people reject the way copyright protection is applied should raise questions.

The law is, ultimately, a servant of the people. Surely it makes more sense if customers don?t have to be coerced, but are happy to pay for what they value?

As businesses increasingly realise they need to police this behaviour, the task usually falls to the IT department. The law, best practice, and the BCS code of conduct are all 100 per cent aligned on this subject, and there is no justification for non-compliance.

Sadly, enforced compliance will not solve the real problem; it will just make the IT department even less popular, and even less focussed on creating value in the business. The real solution lies with the music industry. The music industry, I believe, needs to stop threatening people and start focussing on innovating its way to greater profits, just like everyone else.

Article copyright David Evans writing BCS SME portal -

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