'Broadband settlement' being negotiated behind closed doors


 Talks between the British music industry and the ISPs to resolve the P2P / free downloads  logjam have been going on secretly for the past 2-3 weeks, it emerged today.  It is not clear exactly what kind of deal is anticipated, but it is believed that some kind of levy on ISP subscriptions is on the table, under the banner of a 'broadband settlement'. And there are indications that the British music industry is not going to push for French-style enforcement involving cutting off people's internet access. If that is the case - which remains to be seen, these talks could be positive. 

The existence of the talks became evident  at the Music Publishers Association AGM in London today, where management of the composers and authors collecting societies and music publishers gathered to review the  financial performance of this sector of the industry for 2007.  They appear to have begun about 2-3 weeks ago, and were presented as a change of heart by the ISP industry, that it is now willing to talk. A timeframe of the next 3-4 weeks to reach a conclusion has been suggested, but not confirmed.

Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of British Music Rights, confirmed that the talks are happening, but refused

to say more. When pressed to say whether a French-style  graduated response  was on the table,  he stated emphatically that  British Music rights policy does not endorse termination of user's internet accounts.

 Comments from the panel discussion which took up the second half of the AGM,  indicated that the talks are in direct response to the British government's threats to legislate, and they appear to involve the levy concept.

Andy Heath, chairman of British Music Rights and a board member of the Music publishers Association,  said that some ISPs are re-inventing the value chain. He foresees that online royalties for music composers and publishers  could grow 7-fold in the next two years, with ISP agreements in place. There was some discussion about how much the levy should be  - obviously an area of contention, because it could bring in a much-welcomed injection of funds to the beleaguered music industry, but  if is it set too low, there is little to gain.   'If it was the right number I'd take it, but stand back for 10 years of internicine war! "  said Mr Heath.

 The subject of enforcement of copyright was conspicuous by its absence at this event - it was not raised, in spite of a long panel discussion about P2P downloads and new business models. The overall atmosphere was one of forward-thinking, and presented a refreshing change from the relentless attacks on downloading  from  the record companies  and IFPI - and their refusal to come to terms with change.

The hope is that this is a positive signal,  but there is still a long way to go. Until we know more about what's on the agenda behind those closed doors in the music industry's Soho offices, we will reserve judgement.