U2’s Bono Stage Dives Into File-Sharing Debate


The Irish rocker has cited China’s clampdown on online free speech as evidence that ISPs could do more to tackle illegal sharing of movies and music

The lead-singer of Irish rock-group U2 has said more needs to be done to tackle file-sharing and has cited China’s clamp-down on Internet freedom as evidence that swapping of illegal content online can be controlled.

Writing as part of a regular column in The New York Times, Bono stated that the music and TV industries will be hit by the same levels of file-sharing that have impacted the record and publishing industries over the recent past unless more drastic action is taken to tackle the “swiping” of content.

“The only thing protecting the movie and TV industries from the fate that has befallen music and indeed the newspaper business is the size of the files. The immutable laws of bandwidth tell us we’re just a few years away from being able to download an entire season of “24” in 24 seconds. Many will expect to get it free,” wrote Bono.

The singer and poverty campaigner also believes that ISPs are benefiting from file-sharing and should be forced to do more to control it. “A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators — in this case, the young, fledgling songwriters who can’t live off ticket and T-shirt sales like the least sympathetic among us — and the people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.”

Proof that more could be done to tackle file-sharing is evidenced by China’s efforts to control freedom of speech on the Internet, the rock-singer maintains. “We’re the post office, they tell us; who knows what’s in the brown-paper packages? But we know from America’s noble effort to stop child pornography, not to mention China’s ignoble effort to suppress online dissent, that it’s perfectly possible to track content,” he wrote.


The U2 front-man’s views chime with controversial moves by governments in the UK, France and Sweden to control file-sharing launched last year. The UK government laid out its strategy to combat illegal file-sharing in the Digital Economy Bill during the Queen’s speech in November. Business secretary Lord Mandelson plans to implement an escalating series of sanctions, starting with sending letters to illegal downloaders and culminating in slowing down the connection speed of offenders or temporarily suspending their connections.

Despite receiving the backing of stars such as Bono, other celebrities have come out against a clampdown on file-sharing. Last year, actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry delivered an impassioned critique of the over-zealous enforcement of copyright by the music and movie industry – and in the process admitted using BitTorrent. Fry said of the entertainment industry, “my business… is doing the wrong thing”, in aggressively pursuing file-sharers and keeping the price of official content too high. Only someone who was wilfully blind would believe that someone who downloads a TV episode was as bad as someone who steals a handbag, he said.

Internet service providers are also continuing to oppose attempts to force them to control file-sharing across their networks and cut-off persistent offenders. Last October TalkTalk’s executive director of strategy and regulation Andrew Heaney said in a blog post that Mandelson’s approach was “based on the principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and substitutes proper judicial process for a kangaroo court”.

Picture Credit: Ricardo Stuckert/PR Agência Brasil, published under the Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5 Brazil, available via Wikimedia Commons

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