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28 July 2008

Stopping Music Piracy

By Jonathan Theodore

Slap on the wrist

The UK music industry has launched its biggest initiative against download piracy: a huge letter-writing campaign, targeting hundreds of thousands of illicit file-sharers with a mixture of appeals and vague threats. So far the business has concentrated on nailing the big peer-to-peer networks (most famously Napster in 2001) but the industry’s efforts have had little effect: the average UK teenager now holds around 800 illegally-downloaded songs on his MP3 player. This latest move attempts to jolt ordinary internet users out of that warm, fuzzy feeling of total anonymity. Legally, however, the record companies can’t actually lift a finger to stop them. With UK law skewed towards personal privacy above all else, and web providers unwilling to play policemen and sever any customer’s internet connection (which would include the connection to their bank account), this new initiative isn’t likely to change much. Nor has the Digital Rights Management fiasco done the industry’s moral stance much good. A more realistic policy was suggested this week by former Genesis front-man Peter Gabriel, who called for a radical overhaul in the commercial structure of the music industry, with subscription and advertising replacing the increasingly unworkable pay-per-song system.

Ledger’s posthumous triumph

In an era of falling ticket sales number-crunching is the biggest hobby amongst Hollywood executives. This week The Dark Knight made them giddy with delight with its record-breaking scoop of $155 million for its opening weekend. For former cult director Christopher Nolan, who cut his teeth on cash-strapped indie projects like Memento, this marks quite a journey. Of course the buzz about Heath Ledger‘s star turn as the joker – presumptuously compared to James Dean‘s posthumous role in Giant – deserves as much credit as the jolt Nolan gave to the comatose franchise with Batman Begins (2005).

Fringe just a joke?

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival begins on Saturday, but it has already drawn fire for being the first year in which stand-up comedy has outstripped theatre as the biggest item on the agenda. Increasingly the festival is also relying on the pulling power of big-name TV stars – last year Ricky Gervais played to an audience of 8000 in Edinburgh castle, and this year sees a host of TV celebrities grace the stage. Can the Fringe can preserve any credibility as a broader cultural celebration?

In brief

Mad Men, the TV screenwriter David Chase‘s bid for a career after The Sopranos, won a slew of awards at the Emmys, showing how much easier it is for writers-directors to move on to new ground than their typecast stars (don’t expect to see James Gandolfini in a big new series any time soon). The shortlist for the John Moores art prize was announced, its frontrunners including paintings inspired by the films American Werewolf and Apocalypse Now. Architect Frank Gehry’s latest weird and wonderful creation, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park, has just been opened to predictably mixed reactions and some pundits are wondering – or fearing – whether the so-called “Bilbao effect” will now sweep through Britain, sprinkling architecturally ambitious designs across the country.

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