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Lily Allen, Radiohead on opposite sides of heated British file-sharing debate

September 21, 2009 |  2:35 pm

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A file-sharing debate in England that could have wide-ranging effects on how music is distributed via the Internet is getting heated. Lines are being drawn between artists, with pop singer Lily Allen taking to the Internet to question the stance of the Featured Artists Coalition, a not-for-profit lobbying group that aims to educate and protect the rights of artists.

Allen had expressed support for proposed legislation backed by Lord Peter Mandelson, which could ultimately suspend users' Internet accounts if they were deemed to have engaged in illegal downloading. The FAC, which counts Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, Billy Bragg, Annie Lennox and Radiohead among its members, released a statement today that said talks with record labels to reach a compromise had broken down.

"We have negotiated in good faith with the labels all week, but they remain wedded to the idea of suspension of accounts," the coalition said in a statement. "We remain steadfast in our belief that making threats against individual music fans is not an effective way to resolve any problems associated with file-sharing. So while we will willingly collaborate together on many levels of our business, in respect of this particular issue, we have agreed to disagree."

Allen, meanwhile, is rallying in support of the government. In a post on her recently launched blog It's Not Alright, she notes today that she is not looking for a fight with the FAC, yet still questions the group's argument. Writes Allen: "The FAC seems to be viewing the government’s proposed legislation as an attack on freedom and liberty, but stealing’s not really a human right, is it?"

She continues, "What the government is proposing is the temporary suspension of the Internet accounts of people that are repeatedly downloading loads of music through unlawful P2P file-sharing -- as a last resort after they’ve been sent warnings."

England is not the only country to be debating such a proposal. France appears closer to passing a "three-strikes" law. The latest draft of the French legislation would fine offenders up to 300,000 euros ($441,000) if they continued to download content after an e-mail warning and a registered letter, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

The proposed French law, however, is significantly scaled down from what was originally presented. Initially, it was argued that repeat offenders should have their Internet connections cut off for a year. It was rejected, and the Journal writes that the latest copy of the law would ask a judge to decide on whether Web access should be terminated for any period of time. 

The FAC argues that artists, in addition to fans, would be hurt by the legislation, which it says would "reduce the civil liberties of every one of us in the country in order to afford a disincentive threat to a small minority of ‘egregious offenders.’ "

"The focus of our objection is the proposed treatment of ordinary music fans who download a few tracks so as to check out our material before they buy," The FAC continues. "For those of us who don’t get played on the radio or mentioned in the music media -- artists established and emerging -- peer-to-peer recommendation is an important form of promotion."

Allen, an artist who reached global fame by promoting her music on MySpace, counters that, "Artists should be in charge of how their music is distributed -- not some file-sharer who decides they deserve everything for free, just because they know how to steal it."

Allen's blog has statements of support from James Blunt and Matt Bellamy of Muse, as well as e-mailed comments she's received from the likes of Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan. "I am actually in the middle of researching both the points you've mentioned in your e-mail," an e-mail Allen posted from Khan reads. "Regardless, [I] agree that file sharing is a huge and complicated problem for emerging artists, myself included, and for the future of music."

A story in the London Times writes that many in the British music industry now believe the differing opinions between major artists will ultimately derail any proposed legislation.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Lily Allen. Credit: Getty Images

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