Stephen Fry: Celebrity Tweeter and File-Sharer Extraordinaire?

Stephen Fry, Actor, Comedian, Writer and one of the most visible celebrities to fully embrace the world of Web 2.0 has defended illegal downloading as well as admitting to doing it himself, describing the Entertainment Industry’s approach to unauthorised filesharing as “stupid”. Fry described the prevailing approach within Record Labels in particular to take action against individual filesharers as “stupid”, noting that “Making example of ordinary people is the stupidest thing the record industry can do,” he told a London audience.

He then went on to admit that he uses the file-sharing service BitTorrent to catch up on various TV shows, including the phenomenally popular “24” and “House”, featuring his former co-star Hugh Laurie, before warning that downloading on an “industrial scale” was not defensible.

Stephen Fry is at the forefront of a long list of celebrities who are using Web 2.0 technology, in this case Twitter, to get their opinions out to the internet-using world and to enhance their profile as a result, and has one of the largest “followings” on the site.

The speech he made was to a selected audience, but his message has already got out onto the web and attracted a lot of attention mainly due to the fact that it took place at the iTunes Festival on the subject of the history of music copyright. Within hours, Stephen was already making it clear, via Twitter, that he did not advocate piracy.

Stephen’s comment comes in the midst of a very vocal and topical debate on how filesharing really affects the Entertainment Industry, as well as how the problem should be dealt with. English Copyright Law is very clear on the subject – if you share files over the internet, you are infringing Copyright by making a copy of the file in question and then making it available to other users.

The Government recognised the scale of the problem in the recent “Digital Britain” report, which suggested slowing down the broadband speeds of web users who download illegally. The problem is, however, that there is a huge amount of confusion amongst the general public (and the UK’s alleged six million illegal filesharers) as to what is and what isn’t an illegal download, and while it is true that Record Labels and Movie Studios need to look for new business models and make as much material as possible available for download legally to obviate the need for a pirate-driven option, the fact that filesharing is so widespread will almost certainly mean that we’ll see more cases against brought against “ordinary people”.

The way the law works currently means that each pirate has to be pursued individually, although the Digital Britain report puts some of the burden on OFCOM, which will cost the Entertainment industry a huge amount in legal costs, so it’s very important for them to get a few landmark cases which they can use to educate filesharers through fear of reprisal.

Until the Entertainment Industry does come up with a new way of dealing with Copyright, Stephen may end up as one of the first public figures to receive a “warning letter” or have action taken against him, and all for the sake of watching Hugh Laurie.

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