Striking the wrong note

Observations on copyright

The latest James Bond movie, Casino Royale, got a warm welcome, with Daniel Craig's performance hitting the right note with critics and public.

Several thousand other notes hit in the film were my doing, since I wrote the musical score to this, my fourth Bond movie. Like most of those involved in the film, I was well rewarded, in part upfront and in part through royalties when the film or its score are resold in digital or other formats in the future.

My creativity is my livelihood. Before I eventually made my way professionally in the industry, with films such as Independence Day, Godzilla and Shaft, I took all manner of unlikely jobs to make ends meet. It therefore matters to me, as it does to other creators, that I get paid for my work.

And yet it took me just three minutes to find an illegal copy of the Casino Royale score on one of hundreds of illegal file-sharing services online. I was asked to tick a box stating that I would not use the site to infringe anyone's copyright, before proceeding to an extremely professional mechanism for doing just that.

The issue of how creators and copyright owners are rewarded for their efforts will come into focus next month when Andrew Gowers, the former Financial Times editor appointed by Gordon Brown to look into potential changes to the UK's intellectual property laws, delivers his report. Early indications are that one eye-catching recommendation will involve creating an exception in copyright law for "private copying" - ie, people copying their CD collections on to their iPods.

No doubt this will be spun as a triumph for consumers, as the threat of prosecution is lifted from people shifting formats from what they've bought to what they want to use. The truth, though, is that no one gets prosecuted for this "crime" now, just as no one got prosecuted for copying vinyl on to cassettes a generation ago.

Formalising such an exception is a distraction from the real issue of how governments, music creators, law enforcement and technology providers work together to stamp out illegal file-sharing that undermines the value-creation process and effectively gives people the opportunity to seize something for nothing.

At worst, it will give the green light to the idea that there should be free access to digital content. This may have short-term appeal, but will do nothing to ensure quality. The internet service providers, conscious that providing "free" access to music drives their profits, should do more to clamp down on operators who make illegal downloading not only possible, but likely.

When I was starting out, I never expected to be supported for pursuing something I felt passionately about. But as the British Music Rights report on illegal file-sharing makes clear (, something needs to be done to ensure that all players in the chain demonstrate greater responsibility towards copyright. If Gowers is to have a beneficial effect on creativity, he must focus his attention on this above all.

David Arnold is the composer of the music score for "Casino Royale"

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2006 issue of the New Statesman, The real Afghan war