One Virgin Music Store Dies. And Another Opens.

By  |  Monday, June 15, 2009 at 9:32 am

Sad CDThe timing must be coincidental, but file these two news stories under signs of the times: The last two Virgin Megastores in the U.S. finally closed yesterday–a development which wasn’t entirely due to the slow death of physical media, but was surely be remembered as a significant moment in the ongoing digitization of entertainment. And today, Virgin Media–a UK ISP, phone carrier, and TV provider that’s another arm of the far-flung, loosely-joined Virgin empire–is announcing what may be the first above-board music service that lets you pay a flat fee not only to stream all the music you like but also to download it in MP3 form and keep it, even if you cancel the service. The company has signed up Universal as a music provider, and says it’s working on getting other major music companies on board. It’s going to be available later this year in the UK. But in theory, anyhow, it’s the format of music service we’d all choose, given the opportunity.

What’s the catch? Well, the press release on the new service says this:

The new service reflects the shared commitment of Virgin Media and Universal Music to keep step with growing demand for online music in an increasingly digital world. In parallel, the two companies will be working together to protect Universal Music’s intellectual property and drive a material reduction in the unauthorized distribution of its repertoire across Virgin Media’s network.

This will involve implementing a range of different strategies to educate file sharers about online piracy and to raise awareness of legal alternatives. They include, as a last resort for persistent offenders, a temporary suspension of internet access. No customers will be permanently disconnected and the process will not depend on network monitoring or interception of customer traffic by Virgin Media.

Not explained: How Virgin can identify you as a file swapper and suspend your service if it isn’t watching your online activity in some fashion. I don’t have any sympathy for the plight of music thieves whose activities may be foiled by technological means. But I wouldn’t want to give Virgin Media my money as a customer without a clear idea of exactly how it’s identifying file sharers and interfering with their activities. Absent a clear explanation of what’s going on, there’s an Orwellian tinge to the idea. Call it Big Virgin is Watching You.


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2 Comments For This Post

  1. Augustus Says:

    Perhaps Virgin has realized that while good manners demands that a corporation rant about piracy, it isn’t a real concern. It’s like the cold war – you were expected to be anti-red, you weren’t expected to go and outfit your own army.
    People who have computers usually pirate at least some music, but I’ve never heard of anyone canceling their cable because of this – maybe Virgin sees that piracy is always going to be there and that a generous and open business model will make it irrelevant. Or maybe – as with other unavoidable facts of existence – they will find a way to incorporate it into their business model.
    Business that can deal fairly and see reality? It could happen.

  2. pond Says:

    Harry, the answer to how Virgin knows your online activity is written in the first paragraph of the press release: this is a service only available to their broadband customers.

    Universal must get a cut or kickback from Virgin on the monthly ISP fees it charges.

    To get around this, file-sharers would have to have another ISP to do their file-sharing.

    But then would Virgin ISP be able to tell the difference between P2P sharing Linux distros and sharing music files?