Guardian column on LibDem proposal to block web-lockers

For my Guardian column today, I took the LibDem Lords to task for introducing legislation that would ban web-lockers because these services allow for copyright infringement. I won't argue that copyright infringement takes place on services like Google Docs and YouSendIt, but the reason that these services are great for piracy is that they're great for privacy: the same feature that lets me use YouSendIt to send a family member a private video of my kid in the bath is the feature that lets a copyright violator to share a pirated movie. And you can't get rid of the copyright violations without eliminating our ability to privately share large files for legitimate reasons.
And separate from that, there's the infrastructural cost of establishing a Great Firewall of Britain in order to block access to web lockers. Developing a system whereby parts of the net can be shut off for all of Britain creates the possibility that someone will use the system to shut off the wrong part of the net. I'm not just talking about the danger of a hijacker breaking into the system to shut down or redirect traffic to legitimate sites (say, Microsoft Security Centre or the BBC), but the attractive nuisance presented by such a system. Once you create the facility to shut off parts of the internet that are implicated in civil disputes, how long will it be before people who've alleged a libel or are worried about a trade secret being not so secret are lobbying to have this turned to their aid?

Which isn't to say that this will actually stop infringement. File sharers have already demonstrated their ability to use the perfectly legal, widespread proxy services abroad to circumvent network blocks - ask any 14-year-old whose school network is censored by blocking software and I guarantee you'll get an education in how to evade this kind of thing. Which is great news if you're a pirate, but why should sound engineers, doting grandparents, and solicitors have to learn how to evade the Great Firewall in order to conduct their legitimate business?

My Lords, you can't please the entertainment industry and sustain privacy

(Image: Lockers 3, a Creative Commons Attribution file from dizfunkshinal's photostream)


  1. Personally, I really like what Scribd has been doing with hashfiles to make it a little more difficult to continually re-up the same ebook each time the publisher gets it pulled. At least in the case of ebooks, once you realize that there’s really just 2 or 3 distinct files out there amongst the millions of copies, it makes the problem of keeping them off the filesharing sites must more manageable.

    1. All you need to do when hashfiles are used to block uploads is to stick the file(s) in a zip, rename the files and include a random small file to create a bit of variation, password the zip and no similar hash is going to block it.

      1. Sure, but Scribd doesn’t allow zip files, it’s a document sharing site. Also, the point of copy-protection efforts isn’t to make it impossible to share something (if it’s digital it can be copied) but to reduce the casual sharing, which is 90% of the problem. Someone determined to game the system can always get something through, but a simple curb like a hashfile is amazingly effective at controlling most of the problem. Finally, if you’re password protecting the archive, why even bother adding another file to the mix, the site won’t be able to look inside the archive to index it. People ultimately don’t like grabbing locked archives, though. Too much hassle.

  2. Cory, you haven’t been in UK long enough to understand LibDems, they are, as Adams would say, ‘Mostly Harmless’. They have no real power and cave at the first instance of libertarian scrutiny. As such, you should (1) educate and (2) embrace. Trust me, they’re better than the rest of them. (Plus, the Lords don’t really count, and the LibDems’ disproportionate presence in the upper house is largely due to the indulgence of successive administrations). If you want an interesting evening, go to a LibDem ward meeting wherever you live (warning, you will be hit up for fund-raising pounds, but its OK, ‘cos single digits are appreciated) also, be ready with a ‘prior engagement’ excuse to leave. (You want UK politics? These guys have been the third power for a century)

  3. And separate from that, there’s the infrastructural cost of establishing a Great Firewall of Britain in order to block access to web lockers.

    We already have internet censorship infrastructure in the UK. It’s called Cleanfeed. All ISP’s use it to block CP.

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