/ Technology

Should illegal music sites have to put on the red light?

Traffic lights

The Performing Rights Society for Music wants to create a traffic light system to flag illegal music sites with a red cross and legal ones with a green tick. In principle, it’s a good idea – but could it actually work?

After typing ‘download music’ into Google, I was surprised by just how few of the resulting websites I recognised.

One of the top ones claimed to offer in excess of 200,000 downloads and the descriptor said ‘Free and Legal site’ – but how do I know for sure?

Consequences of illegal downloading

It’s this ambiguity that has allowed law firms like ACS: Law and Davenport Lyons to send out bulk letters demanding people to pay up for alleged illegal file sharing or face legal action.

We’ve heard from hundreds of people who received these letters, many of whom paid up. It’s a practise we’ve been highly critical of and have reported ACS: Law to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The approach of these firms was heavy-handed, but illegal downloading is still a problem. Musicians, artists, writers and a host of others rely on royalties in order to create music, with this money also helping to foster new musical talent.

A traffic light scheme, such as the one proposed by the Performing Rights Society for Music (PRS), would make it easier to spot illegal from legal music sites – and I think the majority of people don’t want to download illegally.

But, success won’t happen overnight. First, the PRS will need to convince global record labels, search engines and ISPs to adopt the scheme. Arguably, it’s in the labels’ best interest and if a major search engine like Google signs up, all the others will doubtlessly follow suit.

Traffic light system could be open to abuse

All sites will have a green tick by default (PRS believes in ‘innocent until proven guilty’) but this is potentially open to abuse. Illegal sites will do all they can to conceal their true nature. And I’d wager there are even a few of them that are already thinking about how to fool the system.

It’s conceivable that illegal websites could fake the traffic light beside their website, which would have a disastrous effect. People seeing a green light will assume it’s safe to ‘go’ but if a site’s wrongly labelled the scheme will lose their trust and ultimately fail.

Plus, the minority who want to illegally download free music will no doubt appreciate having those sites flagged by a red cross.

The PRS claims that since similar technology is already being used to show whether sites are virus free, that it’s traffic light scheme could be in place ‘by the end of the year’. I’d like to believe it, but I have my doubts.

In the meantime, my advice would be to stick to the websites you know. Just as there were sites I didn’t recognise among my search results, the top 10 was also unsurprisingly populated by Apple’s iTunes Store and Amazon.co.uk.


Seems like an extremely pointless system to me, no doubt wasting a lot of money.

The majority of people using these websites will know what they are doing is illegal and pay no attention to the ‘red light’. It may also trigger some sort of status amongst the sites, which I think you touched on above, who would be proud of having this cross against their name.

The PRS need to learn to stop attacking the user and go after those creating the website and uploading the material.

David Neighbour says:
30 August 2012

It would be useful to know what is really legal against sites which claim to be. Will this suggested system do this?