Back in 2010, on the last day of the last Labour government, a whipped Parliament voted in the terrible Digital Economy Act, after a short, embarrassingly illiterate debate whose howlers demonstrated just how little the MPs understood about the law they were voting in (the whole process was later revealed to be a fix from day one).
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Tony Abbott, current Prime Minister of Australia, announced his new Internet censorship plan by warning Aussies, "Do not, my friends, become addicted to the Web."
The UK Conservative MP Mike Weatherley spoke at a second reading of the Intellectual Property Bill in Parliament and called for prison sentences for "persistent" downloaders. Mr Weatherley is a former entertainment industry executive and is Prime Minister Cameron's Intellectual Property advisor. He also defended the idea of disconnecting families from the Internet if their router is implicated in accused acts of copyright infringement.
In Weatherley's view, "piracy" is the same as "theft." He's saying that if you listen to a song the wrong way -- by torrenting it, rather than listening to it on Spotify -- you should go to jail. He's saying that if you watch a TV programme using Bittorrent instead of Iplayer, that the state should pay to imprison you and you should be deprived of your liberty; but if you watch that same program in the same window on the same screen in the same place, but you get it from Iplayer, you're in the clear.
Prison for watching TV the wrong way -- no wonder they're called the Nasty Party.
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The UK's Internet censorship rules allow big rightsholders to provide the country's major ISPs with lists of IP addresses that must be blocked, no questions asked -- an no penalties if the wrong site gets blocked. Case in point: the Premier League demanded censorship of a load-balancing content distribution network that carried many sites, including the Radio Times (a TV/radio listings service formerly owned by the BBC). The blacklists generated by big entertainment companies are kept secret, and the Open Rights Group is pushing ISPs to voluntarily publish the list of censorship orders they receive, so that the public can check them for this kind of negligent error.
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Copyright and Creation, a policy brief from a collection of respected scholars at the rock-ribbed London School of Economics, argues that the evidence shows that piracy isn't causing any grave harm to the entertainment industry, and that anti-piracy measures like the three-strikes provision in Britain's Digital Economy Act don't work. They call on lawmakers to take an evidence-led approach to Internet and copyright law, and to consider the interests of the public and not just big entertainment companies looking for legal backstops to their profit-maximisation strategies.
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UK Prime Minister David Cameron has appointed Mike Weatherley, an entertainment executive-turned-MP, to be his "intellectual property advisor." His remit will be "enforcement issues" on "the challenges that face the film and music industries." The previous Labour government passed the controversial Digital Economy Act without Parliamentary debate on its last day, and that bill allows future governments to establish a disconnection system whereby people accused of copyright infringement will lose their Internet access without proof or trial, along with everyone who lives with them. Weatherley's former colleagues from the entertainment industry have been lobbying to put this into place through a voluntary scheme, despite compelling evidence that shows that these systems don't reduce piracy.
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Evaluating Graduated Response, a new paper from Rebecca Giblin from the law school at Australia's Monash University, looks at the impact of "three strikes" and "graduated response" punishments for file-sharing. Countries including France, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, the U.K., Ireland and the U.S. have adopted systems whereby people accused of file-sharing have their Internet access curtailed. This takes many forms, from losing access to YouTube and Facebook until subscribers complete a "copyright training course" designed by the entertainment industry to out-and-out disconnection from the Internet.
A good summary in IT News by Juha Saarinen discusses Giblin's findings from an in-depth survey of the file-sharing landscape before and after the introduction of three strikes rules: "There is no evidence demonstrating a causal connection between graduated response and reduced infringement. If 'effectiveness' means reducing infringement, then it is not effective."
Giblin is the author of 2011's Code Wars, an excellent book on the first ten years of file-sharing data.
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The British Phonographic Institute -- UK equivalents to the RIAA -- are demanding an expansion to the existing Internet censorship regime in Britain, which already blocks access to The Pirate Bay on a national level. Now they want three more sites -- Fenopy, H33t and Kickass Torrents -- added to the blacklist.
The Pirate Bay may be blocked, but the Pirate Party UK proxy for it is one of the top 250 sites in the UK, and its popularity is climbing. I'd never heard of the three torrent sites named by the BPI before, but they sound interesting. For as long as I can remember, anything the BPI doesn't want me to see has turned out to be awesome.
The BPI got a court order to block the Pirate Bay. But they're looking to get ISPs to voluntarily censor these other sites. So far, the ISPs have told them that they'll only participate in the national censorwall if a court tells them to.
From the BBC:
Jim Killock, a campaigner with the Open Rights Group, argued that consumers' interests were not being properly represented.
"Web blocking is an extreme response," he told the BBC.
"If courts are being asked to block websites they need to be taking into consideration the rights of users and any legitimate usage of those sites.
"It isn't clear whether a conversation between a judge, ISPs and rights holders is going to sufficiently represent the needs of users."
More piracy sites faced with blocking as BPI contacts UK ISPs
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Harriet Harman, deputy leader the UK Labour Party, has explained
her party's programme for the British Internet: "implement the Digital Economy Act under a clear timetable including getting on with the notification letters." "Notification letters?" Why yes, those would be the letters notifying you that you have been accused, without proof, of downloading copyrighted material without permission, and that everyone in your household is now at risk of being disconnected from the Internet, without a trial. If that costs you your job, if that costs your children their education, if that makes it harder to engage with politics, civics, and your community, well, tough shit. Thanks for sticking up for the little guy, Labour. And thanks for passing the Digital Economy Act without Parliamentary debate, over the howls of protests of your own veteran MPs, even after music industry lobbyists were caught rewriting portions of it to suit their corporate masters. (PS: she also wants all the worst stuff in SOPA to be taken on voluntarily by Google). Read the rest
The UK Open Rights Group has released a report on the way that the UK government approaches copyright policy, in the wake of the government's recent plaudits for the UK film industry's online offering. This matters because the UK government's position is that the film industry constitutes a major part of the British economy, and it has done everything it can to present legitimate avenues for watching film online, so the ongoing illegal download problems mean that government must intervene with extraordinary measures like a national censorship regime that blocks websites that the film industry dislikes.
But ORG's research, along with Freedom of Information requests, show that, on the one hand, the film industry's online offerings are overpriced and underserviced; and on the other hand, there is no evidence to support the claim that the industry is suffering as a result of "piracy." The "evidence" in the government's web-blocking plans is purely anaecdotal, self-serving, and belied by actual facts.
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* Excluding iTunes, only 27% of the BAFTA Best Film award winning films from 1960 to 2011 are available to rent or buy online, with only 29% of the50 best British films.
* Only 6% of the best 50 best British films are on Film4 OD or Virgin Media. 14% are available through a LoveFilm subscription and 4% through pay per view on LoveFilm.
* Including iTunes, still only 43% of the top 50 British films can be bought or rented online, with the figure at 58% for the BAFTA Best Film award winners.
My latest Guardian
column, "Lib Dems get a chance to vote on copyright reform," discusses the new Liberal Democrat IT white paper that's being presented at the party conference this weekend, where members will get the chance to vote in favor of repealing some of the worst sections of the Digital Economy Act, dealing with web-censorship and disconnection over copyright claims. The paper is very good, but somewhere between the final draft prepared by the committee and the paper the membership will vote on this weekend, someone inserted a clause saying that downloading is "a form of theft" and goes on to say that "there is no reason why digital offenders should not be prosecuted under the criminal law in the same way as those who steal tangible goods." I've spent the past few days trying to track down who put this language in, and everyone both denies it and says they don't support it -- which raises the question, what's it doing there at all?
This is pretty outre stuff. Every developed nation's legal system treats thefts of tangible goods as absolutely distinct from copyright violation. Applying criminal sanctions for copyright infringement would be unprecedented in the industrialised world.
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Don Foster, the Lib Dem MP with the DCMS brief, apparently lobbied to have "a statement making clear that copyright infringement is as serious as theft" included in the document, though his staff disavows any involvement in the phrasing and says: "For Don, non-commercial copyright infringement has only ever been a civil issue." Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem MP who was also involved in the drafting, says, "there is no intention to change the current system in this regard".
Here's a great and engrossing profile in the Guardian
of campaigning MP Tom Watson, who has been instrumental in Parliament's pursuit of the Murdoch phone-hacking case. Watson has been targetted by News International in retaliation, followed around by PIs, his neighbours' rubbish bins raided, members of his party told to sideline or fire him by high-ranking News execs. I know Tom from his exemplary work against the Digital Economy Act, and it was fascinating to learn about this other major passionate campaign of his life.
"When Myler and Crone first turned up, my knowledge was novice-level," he says. "I knew about three facts. But what I knew was that in any great scandal, you've got to follow the money. They were hick, amateur questions: I think I opened with: 'When did you tell Rupert Murdoch [about the payment]?' I thought that you might as well start at the top.
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"They said: 'Oh no – we didn't tell Rupert Murdoch.' Then it was, 'Well, who did you tell? Who authorised it?' Myler got frustrated me with me, because I came back to this four or five times. He ranted. And don't forget: Crone had already tried to get me off the committee. So at that point, I thought: 'You're rude, you've tried to remove me from this committee, you've put me under extreme pressure for a number of years – there's more to this, and I'm getting to the bottom of it.' "When Myler was so over the top . . .
Last year, the UK government held consultation into its proposed Digital Economy Act, an extremist copyright proposal created by the unelected Business Secretary Peter Mandelson. The process that followed was as dirty as any I'd ever seen (for example, the then-head of the BPI wrote an amendment proposing a national censorship regime
that a LibDem Lord then introduced on his behalf. But it turns out that there was much more sleaze below the surface.
Documents released in response Freedom of Information requests show that Mandelson had already made up his mind from the start about the Act's most controversial section: the rules that said that users would have their Internet connections terminated if enough unsubstantiated infringement claims were made against their households. The "compromise" that the Act made was to suspend this measure initially, and bring it into force if the other measures in the Act failed to substantially reduce infringement. Critics called it the sham it was, saying that a 70 percent reduction in file-sharing was a delusional target, and the FOI documents show that the Act's supporters agreed -- they only intended the compromise as a means of smuggling in France-style disconnections.
Which is to say that the whole business was a sham: the Business Secretary and his pals in the record industry had stitched the whole thing up from the start, and the thousands upon thousands of Britons who wrote in never had a hope of changing things. That's why the Act was crammed through Parliament without debate in the "wash-up," hours before Labour dissolved the government. Read the rest
A group of UK copyright lobbyists held confidential, closed-door meetings with Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries to discuss a plan to allow industry groups to censor the Internet in the UK. The proposal has leaked, and it reveals a plan to establish "expert bodies" that would decide which websites British people were allowed to see, to be approved by a judge using a "streamlined" procedure. The procedure will allow for "swift" blocking in order to shut down streaming of live events.
Public interest groups like the Open Rights Group asked to attend the meeting, but were shut out, presaging a regulatory process that's likely to be a lopsided, industry-centric affair that doesn't consider the public. The process is characterised as "voluntary," but the proposal makes reference to the Digital Economy Act, which allows for mandatory web-blocking (thanks to the action of LibDem Lords who submitted a proposal written by a record industry lobbyist as an amendment to the DEA).
The Open Rights Group has a campaign to repeal the DEA that you can sign onto.
We would like confirmation from the government that these are genuine proposals which they are actively considering. We would also like to know what steps they will be taking to consider the views of organisations such as Open Rights Group, and those others who recently wrote to rights holders expressing their concern and requesting such proposals are made public.
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So far these discussions have involved only rightsholders and Internet companies, with only in the most recent meeting involving Consumer Focus.
The Hargreaves report on UK copyright reform sounds pretty sensible: it endorses a Fair Dealing exception to copyright for parody; a format-shifting exemption to legalize loading MP3 players; and an orphan works clearing house to make it easy to clear rights for works whose creators can't be identified. The devil will be in the details (especially in for orphan works, where a corrupt process could make it easy for big companies to rip off creators by claiming they couldn't find them), but this is some pretty sane-sounding stuff:
Last year's viral hit Newport State of Mind - a parody of Alicia Keys and Jay Z's hugely successful single New York State of Mind - was forced off YouTube after the seven co-writers of the original declined to give their permission for this use of their IP.
Report calls for overhaul of UK copyright law
Under the Hargreaves recommendations the parody, which writers Alex Warren and Terema Wainright unsuccessfully attempted to get clearance for in a meeting with Universal Records, would be given the green light.
"The case for introducing and updating this exception is strong in both cultural and economic terms," Hargreaves, chair of digital economy at the Cardiff School of Journalism, will say in the review. "A healthy creative economy should embrace creativity in all its aspects. A legally sound structure would not be mocked by pervasive infringement by otherwise law abiding citizens and organisations with the stature of the BBC."
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Ed Vaizey, the UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries has admitted that he is in talks with ISPs to create a voluntary national firewall. Big copyright companies would petition to have sites they don't like added to the secret national blacklist, and the ISPs would decide -- without transparency or judicial review -- whether to silently block Britons from seeing the censored sites.
Peter from the Open Rights Group adds, "Website blocking is a bad idea, especially on a self-regulatory basis where vital judicial oversight is bypassed.
The good news is that he has promised to invite civil society groups to participate in future discussions on the matter.
You can help explain the problems by writing to your MP at ORG's website."
Minister confirms site blocking discussions
(Thanks, PeterBradwell, via Submitterator!)
Child-abuse survivors oppose EU censorwall - Boing Boing
UK government hands £500M copyright enforcement and censorship tab ...
Internet censorship harms schools - Boing Boing
Access Denied: report on Internet censorship around the world ...
British ISPs revolt against the self-appointed censors who ordered ...
Guardian column on LibDem proposal to block web-lockers - Boing Boing
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Creative Destruction and Copyright Protection, a paper by the London School of Economics' Bart Cammaerts and Bingchun Meng, is an eye-opening look at the economics of file-sharing and music. The authors argue that an overall decline in consumer entertainment spending is to blame for the music industry's downturn, supporting their assertion with (for example), research showing that entertainment spending declined by 40 percent in households that didn't own computers (who probably weren't downloading!) over the period of overall decline for the industry.
Their conclusion is that copyright enforcement won't bring back consumer spending on music -- but it will strangle new business models built on file-sharing, robbing the next generation of musicians without paying the current generation. The authors propose several business models, including allowing ISPs to buy unlimited, technology-neutral licenses on behalf of their users.
The authors of the study acknowledge that these alternative models are not going to impress SONY and EMI. "Compared to the value of the mainstream music market, dominated by the 'big four', these are relatively marginal activities," they observe.
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But they may become less marginal very soon. With world mobile data traffic set to explode by a factor of 26 by 2015, and with most people in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South/Southeast Asia expected to link to the mobile 'Net before they get electricity, file sharing could be poised for a second great leap forward, whether Big Content approves of it or not.
These millions of new Netizens are not going to have the money to buy digital music files.