The pay-off for tough penalties against persistent file-sharers would be a more relaxed copyright regime, Mr Mandelson said.
The details of it would need to be hammered out at European level but it would take account of the use of copyright material "at home and between friends"... It would mean that, for example, someone who has bought a CD would be able to copy it to their iPod or share it with family members without acting unlawfully.
It might have been psychologically possible to regard the policy as merely misguided and excessive if it hadn't come with the illusory sweetener of removing a dead letter which in certain other countries doesn't exist anyway. It's nice to see this sensible Gowers recommendation brought back, of course; but given the catalogue of little-regarded laws reputedly still available for this treatment, can we now anticipate that the next round of tough-on-criming will come with a 'pay-off' of curtailing freedom of association still further but making it legal to enter the Palace of Westminster in a suit of armour? Or that in return for heightened 'Net surveillance we might be permitted to apply postage stamps upside down without fear of prosecution? The possibilities for this new understanding of equanimity are scarily boundless.