What these delinquents, and millions like them around the world, do in their free time is illegal; a criminal act, no different from walking out of Woolies with pockets full of electrical goods or torturing a grocer. And now, at last, the authorities are proving capable of cracking down on this illicit trade which funds paedophiles, terrorists and lots of Triads. From this month on litigation, lawsuits and injunctions will be slapped on tens of thousands of MP3 file-swappers around the country as the government gets serious about containing this heinous copyright infringement. Indeed, the past week has seen the formation of a special team of highly-trained police, inspired by America's IPT ('Intellectual Property Task-Force'), who've been so successful at bursting into homes across the U.S. and arresting children at gunpoint.
This MIMSY Squad ('Music Is a Musicians' Sole Yield') is headed by one Chief Inspector Dafyyd McCartney, and was established by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell with a remit to clamp down on the theft of top pop tunes at any cost. One of the department's first successes came from infiltrating online rings of naughty 'peer to peer networks', then asking who had the most tunes. Addresses generated through undercover work were stormed by teams of heavily armoured cops in a series of stunning dawn raids which netted several hundred suspects of varying socio-economic status and background, everyone from unemployed graduates to teenage schoolgirls called 'Nikki' and 'Aurora'. The suspects were subsequently loaded into a series of specially modified truck-sized 'catch wagons' and shipped off to holding pens in Kent. Meanwhile, upset families could only look on and wonder where they went wrong.
"These criminals have known all along this was coming and still they refused to halt their evil ways," announced Chief Inspector McCartney in a televised address earlier this week. "No one should feel sympathy for such people so don't let this upset you, instead shed a tear for the people who really suffer - songwriters denied vital royalties thanks to this nefarious trade. Poor unfortunates like Craig David or the drummer out of Keane."
Indeed, an initial public outcry greeting the imprisonment of scores of otherwise respectable white collar workers and GCSE students, all pictured on local TV snivelling into handkerchiefs and calling for their mothers, was quelled when details of their extensive criminality became public. The police formally released details of iPod Minis,packed to bursting
with tracks taken for free, and this led to great gangs of Usher and Lemar fans banding together and
looking to lynch the file-swappers.
"Make no mistake, this could be the worst group of copyright offenders since the 'Hackney Cassette
Two-Score' stain of the late eighties," continued Dafyyd McCartney. "Back then we had to throw more
than forty East London youths into Belmarsh when they persisted in taping Pat Benatar and Living In A
Box off Simon Mayo's chart show. This time the problem's on an even larger scale, but we stopped home
taping from killing music then and, God willing, we can keep the record industry in profit now."
Although the police and government have hailed the operation a great success and a vindication of their decision to set aside millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to fight the file-sharing menace, it remains unclear whether British law is able to apply custodial sentences to such a contemporary crime. In order to clarify the picture we consulted practicing lawyer and sometime choirboy, Daniel Wise (LLB).
"I don't see how our legal system would cope, even if the laws were there." Wise explained when we visited his central London offices, within which the young lawyer sat clad in a cravat and smoking a cigarillo. "It's not really logistically plausible to prosecute everybody who downloads a few tracks is it? Then again, we've never been able to cope with the consequences of our drug laws either, but we still throw users in prison. In this instance, the morality inculcated by our government has been quite covert, but it makes for an interesting precedent; the first time a law's been shamelessly invoked with the aim of aiding big business and causing misery for the average British citizen. This could definitely be a harbinger for the way future rules are written in this country. You've got to laugh haven't you? A-wah ha ha!"
Whatever the long-term legal implications, more 'internment centres' are currently being built to hold file-swappers awaiting trial, while the Prime Minister promises to fill them all with internet users as young as eight who download songs without permission. HDUK visited the first of these camps in Sidcup and were confronted with a gruesome sight; apathetic record store workers mixing with college students and strident left-wingers who'd sewn their eyelids shut in protest. Once a day these grubby prisoners would gather at the edge of the compound to receive essentials like Chuba Chups and posters of Robbie Williams which were lobbed over the barbed wire, inevitably causing a crush of limbs and pigtails.
After some haggling we were allowed to speak to some of those interred, prisoners like fifteen year old Helen who'd been held since January. Although she thought the camp was "better than school" Helen told us she "were pissed off" at the lack of boys and having to miss Duran Duran's recent tour. As we left she cried out; "I dunno what I did wrong! Tell my mother I hate her!" By-passing an aging session guitarist, too out of it to speak, we alighted on Gareth Spike (24), an office administrator and very angry man. "You the press?" Asked Gareth, to which we responded in the affirmative. "Good, it's about time you got here. This takes the mick, it really does. This is even worse than that time Metallica sued their own fans. Just because I want to listen to the new Beck record before it comes out, I end up here in the damp and cold. Plus there's a middle-aged cocaine casualty in the bunk above me who wets the bed every night. They keep telling me I'm responsible for the 15% decline in music sales over the past two years, but I always buy good CDs after downloading some songs to check. Couldn't it be possible that people aren't buying what record companies put out because it's mainly rubbish? I mean, Michelle McManus? Goldie Lookin' Chain? Razorlight? You can take my freedom away from me EMI, but you'll never make me buy your shit music!"
A crisp winter Saturday in England. All around the country adolescents
and twentysomethings huddle in their cosy rooms, talking on mobile
phones and writing emails while extracting songs by favourite pop artistes
from that burgeoning phenomenon known as 'the internet'. Nothing wrong
there you might think, maybe they should go out and get some fresh air,
maybe identify a few trees in the park, perhaps even visit their gran, but
essentially the young people are doing nothing wrong, simply
communicating like the kids love to do, broadening their cultural horizons.
That can't be a bad thing, surely?