Quote of the Day: From the New York Times:
For most Europeans, almost nothing is more prized than their four to six weeks of guaranteed annual vacation leave. But it was not clear just how sacrosanct that time off was until Thursday, when Europe’s highest court ruled that workers who happened to get sick on vacation were legally entitled to take another vacation.
Here’s the whole story; here’s the ruling.
ATTENTION EUROPEANS, WE ONCE AGAIN HAVE REASON TO HAVE FAITH IN THE UNION.
Self-Policing The Internet, or An Ion Cannon In Every Garage
Some people just can’t take a hint. With the entertainment industry licking its wounds in the wake of the SOPA/PIPA blackout protests, and a public and tech industry forcefully rejecting the way Hollywood has manipulated and bought the lawmakers, what happened next?
Less than a week passes, and the entertainment industry gets Megaupload taken down.
Yes, that’s right; at a time when the public perception of the way the entertainment industry conducts business and influences politics is at an all-time low, the dust hasn’t even begun to settle, and the eyes of the world are upon them and scrutinising their behaviour, they then take exactly the kind of action that has got everyone so pissed off at them in the first place.
For an industry so obsessed with image, this wasn’t a very smart move. I’d argue that it was about the dumbest move they could have made. Postponing this action for just a week would have at least mitigated some of the negativity, but instead they have an incredibly high-profile example of inconveniencing a large number of people on frankly spurious grounds.
“Spurious?” Yes, because here are the problems with taking down a site like Megaupload:
- Did the site host files that violated copyright? Almost certainly. But for twelve years now (starting with Napster), has taking down such sites actually worked? No. All it does is create a vacuum into which other, more legally robust services will rapidly inflate, fulfilling the same role for users, but giving a Sisyphean legal task for content producers. Which is just dandy as far as their lawyers are concerned, but benefits no one else.
- Does an unpaid download equal a lost sale? No. No, let’s not even have this argument. I’m sure some sales have been lost due to unpaid downloads, but it’s insulting to suggest that every single download is something people would otherwise have paid for. What’s more, those free downloads can have a positive effect as a loss leader - what you lose in the cost of producing the song/movie/TV show, you gain in raising awareness of your product and in widening your fanbase. This is why a lot of musicians are willingly giving away free music - it’s advertising. Plus, lest we forget, people who download for free are also the people who spend the most on downloads. You punish the downloaders? You punish your biggest customers.
- Were copyright-violating files the only ones hosted by Megaupload? Nope. So a bunch of legitimate users have been hurt, and denied access to their entirely legal files, all of which serves to increase resentment of an industry that already has a serious image problem, at a time when they’re already in the spotlight after Black Wednesday.
“So what then, Seej? Should anyone just be allowed to put anything online and hang the consequences? What about the terrorists, Seej? What about the pedos? What about the terrorist pedos you sick fuck?”
…is basically the fall-back argument for why we need this kind of legislation in the first place. And yes, I’m not denying there are some utter subhuman shits out there, and they do need to be monitored, regulated, controlled, and prevented from being allowed to pursue unambiguously harmful and hate-filled agendas. We do need some way to deal with them. But should we surrender our own liberties so completely, just on the off-chance that an incredibly tiny number of people want to behave reprehensibly?
And then it struck me. Then I had a moment of epiphany.
Don’t you see? We don’t need laws to contain those people. We don’t need politicians and private companies interfering and being given far-reaching powers to block, ban and takedown parts of the net (that they will then, if their past behaviour is anything to go on, totally abuse and use in grossly and unjustifiably draconian ways that they were never intended for and that we were promised wouldn’t happen). We don’t need Internet Police.
We need Low Orbit Ion Cannon.
Side note: the plural of “cannon” is “cannon.”
The Low Orbit Ion Cannon is a piece of software that floods a target IP address with traffic. If enough people are using it, that target gets overwhelmed, and ceases to be able to respond to genuine traffic. It’s a DDoS attack, and in the wake of Megaupload being taken offline, numerous government and corporate sites who bore some responsibility for the takedown were attacked using the LOIC, and taken down in retaliation.
The public spoke. It said, unequivocally, “No.”
This was, at best estimate, about five and a half thousand users flooding those sites.
And that’s what we need. We need LOIC to be legitimised, and more widely used.
Don’t rely on a single, corruptible organisation to police the internet. Rely on the users of the internet themselves. The more objectionable a site, the more likely it is to be attacked, and the more likely it is to shut down. Something inoffensive would remain unscathed, while the fanatics and the nutters that are used as scare-stories to justify legislative measures would be rapidly and much more effectively attacked. The more people who have LOIC at their command, the more effective and self-policing the whole internet becomes, with the attacks on any particular site perfectly matching, from minute to minute, the level of outrage that any particular site is causing.
No site would be above the rule of the people, no corporation could evade or ignore public disgust, the government would be just as answerable to their constituents as anyone else, no one person would be in charge, and power would be in the hands of everyone, distributed perfectly throughout the crowd.
Is this not a more elegant, democratic, egalitarian approach?
It already works. What we need is for LOIC to become socially acceptable, more anonymous, and more widely installed. The internet distributes power and control as effectively as it distributes information. We don’t need some centralised body, modelled on real-world policing to control things. Such a body is only open to corruption and abuse anyway, and can only be less-effective than everyone collectively and collaboratively making decisions themselves. And we already have the technology.
Low Orbit Ion Cannon for everyone. This is our internet, and we can manage it ourselves.
UK citizens, get out from under the USA’s foot!
“The Extradition Act passed by Labour in 2003, was designed for terror suspects… ‘It was never intended for cases like that of Richard O’Dwyer.” more
Sign this petition and call your representatives.
Richard O’Dwyer, a UK citizen, had no servers in the USA. He has not been to the USA since he was 5. But he is going to be extradited to the USA and face the possibility of 10 years in prison for linking to copyrighted material that he did not host.
Regardless of your opinion of O’Dwyer, it should be a no-brainer that it’s wrong for a person who hosted a list of links to TV shows be extradited as a terrorist.
Yes, it’s arguable that he broke US laws, but he did so entirely outside the US. Just because the US could see him, does that give them jurisdiction? Well y’know what? I’ll bet I’ve done all sorts of things that are perfectly legal in the UK but against the law in other countries - does that mean those other countries should get to extradite me? Chances are that you, and everyone you know, have done the same. If I say Kim Jong Il was a terrible tyrant and I’m glad he’s dead, should North Korea have the authority to extradite me and send me off to a prison camp? Because that’s the level of abuse of the law we’re talking about here.
Fellow UK people; you need to sign this, because who knows what they’ll be deporting people for next if this is allowed to pass.
“A bomb won;t go off here beacuse weeks before the criminal pirating films was cuaght by monitoring his internet history”
The Met. Keeping you safe from terrorist video pirates.
I cannot begin to say how many things are wrong with this picture…
IT’S TRUE YOU CAN MAEK SPLOSIVES FROM TORRENTZ YOU GUISE!!!
See also: YOU WOULDN’T DOWNLOAD A SATCHEL OF C4, DETONATOR, AND TIMING CIRCUIT.
The Problem With Copyright
Or: It’s Hard For Me To Copy-Right When All I Want Is Copy-Wrong
So the government here in the UK has just announced that it’s going to follow up on all the recommendations of the Hargreaves Report.
Good. This is a step towards a sane solution.
Sane? Well, did you know that under current UK law it is illegal to take a CD, which you have paid for and own, and rip it to MP3? Not for sharing with anyone, mind you; just for your own personal use.
Totally and unequivocally illegal.
Which hasn’t stopped anyone from doing it. Not many people even know that they’re breaking the law when they do this. And the record companies don’t make a fuss because they know there’s no way they can even afford to pursue this.
It’s an archaic law, and one that rightly needed to change, so it’s nice to see that (amongst them attempting to rape every last penny out of the country in all other areas) the government has at least seen sense on this.
Parodies, too; they’re fine now. Weird Al Yankovic would have never stood a chance if he’d been born in the UK, up until now.
But it’s at this point that I think, as a culture, we need to reconsider copyright law on a deeper, more fundamental level. Obviously some people are not happy about any relaxation in copyright law, and they tend to have deep pockets to lobby law-makers. If we’re going to build a copyright law for the future, we need to get to the root of the issue.
Copyright all started with The Statute Of Anne, back in 1710. Yes, Britain invented copyright. But back then it was all done with the noblest and soundest intentions. With the advent of the printing press, copies could be made on a scale never before seen. It was the Napster of the day. Which meant that if you’d put all the toil into writing a book, some other bugger could (relatively) easily copy the thing and sell it without paying you a damn thing. The creator does the work and covers the overheads, and someone else profits.
Clearly, this was unjust, because why should someone put in the graft if they’re not going to be suitably compensated? So, to protect creators, and thus incentivise creativity (and this is an important idea that I’m coming back to), the law was passed.
I think this is totally fair, and I think a law like this should exist. But we first start to hit problems when we consider how long copyright should last. Originally it was for fourteen years, and if the creator was still alive (life expectancy was mid-thirties in the UK back then, fuck, just 300 years ago) they could renew it for another fourteen years (by which point, if they still weren’t dead, they were hailed as Wolverine, Immortal King Of England (the idea for Wolverine, Immortal King Of England is now copyright to me by the way, arf), and we’d all have to submit offerings to their mutant healing factor). This was all peachy for a while.
But as people have started living longer, they started demanding extensions. I get this. It would suck if you’re still alive, seeing people profiting off your hard work, especially if you’ve fallen on hard times. Fair enough.
But I think the point where it all starts to get screwy is where someone else gets to hold the copyright.
“Well, shouldn’t, for example, the widow of a writer inherit the copyright to his works so she can support herself Seej?”
I’ve thought pretty hard about this. It’s perhaps best if I use a physical-goods metaphor. The widow of a farmer would inherit the farm. She would still be able to profit from it. Why shouldn’t the widow of a writer be the same?
Well, here’s the thing; the widow of the farmer can profit by either a) selling all the physical assets that farming has allowed the farm to acquire, and this includes land, buildings, crops planted and livestock, or b) by continuing the business of farming.
This isn’t really the same as writing.
Writing isn’t the farm; it’s the act of farming.
Writing isn’t the asset; it’s the effort exerted.
The work enables the acquisition of assets; it is not the asset itself. If a farmer ploughs a field, then he should get paid for the work he’s done. But that doesn’t mean that his descendants should continue to get paid for that work forever. Likewise with our hypothetical writer; he should get paid for his work, but why should anyone else get anything? They’ve already inherited whatever is left from the earnings the writer made, so who says they’re entitled to anything else?
This is a sensitive subject, I know, and I’m saying that we should take grieving relatives and twist the knife by taking their dearly departed’s works and saying “No more profit for you; this shit is Public Domain for any fuckhead to do whatever with, LOL.” But where else do we draw the line?
I think there’s a pretty good argument for saying there should be a cool-down period, say five years or so, for the sake of simply being decent human beings, because putting the work in the public domain upon confirmation of death feels kind of like robbing a corpse while it’s still warm, and so is pretty insensitive. But we need to draw the line somewhere, or it becomes fundamentally irrational.
And then things got really complicated.
Because then people started selling their copyright.
Oh, sure, it’s an asset, like mining rights, so why shouldn’t someone sell it?
Except it’s not like mining rights, because the mine has already been dug.
Again, it comes down to who is actually doing the work, and therefore who deserves to earn the money from it. This should be the focus of our copyright law. This is how to use copyright law to stimulate creators to create. And this is not what copyright law is doing very well at the moment.
Worryingly, corporations can now own copyright. And this stems from the argument that if a corporation is responsible for the work that goes into producing and publishing a product, then shouldn’t they own the copyright?
And I can see that argument, I really can. The problem is that corporations might never die.
Disney is the perfect example. Uncle Walt created Mickey Mouse, but he by no means was the only person who made those cartoons. The Disney corporation made the cartoons. So, yeah, the corporation is the creator and so the copyright should belong to the corporation. And here we return to the matter of incentive. Because if a corporation holds copyright, it is incentivised to defend that copyright.
As long as Disney can sell a lunchbox with a picture of Mickey on the side, it has an incentive to protect its copyright of that image, but it perverts the nature of the original law. If Shakespeare had incorporated himself, would/should the rights to his plays forever be held by Shakespeare Inc, centuries after his death?
Disney fights damn hard to increase the length of time that they can hold the copyrights to things their corporation have created, but you can’t blame them. They have ample incentive to do so.
To get some sense here, we need to consider how culture works.
It is simple; everything is a remix. See also the excellent RIP: A Remix Manifesto.
Culture has, for as long as there has been culture, built upon prior culture. My next single steals a line I loved from Romeo And Juliet (not the one you think), and another from Lose Yourself (that, interestingly, overlaps with a little bit of something else that Warren Ellis wrote). And every creator out there is just the same.
To limit or even deny the ability for creators to ever reference other, earlier creators in this way is no less than the slow, drawn-out, crippling death of culture.
Some other creator will always have done something that, consciously or not, any new work references.
If they have the right to control or block the release, or take all the money from any such new release, it does no less than totally remove any incentive for anyone to create anything new.
If our current laws are played out to their logical conclusion, within a few hundred years it will be impossible for any creator to release any work at all, without being then legally hounded by already-wealthy copyright holders, greedy to add a new revenue stream, and with a legitimate claim that the copyright they already hold has been substantially referenced in this new work. Even if the lawsuits of the old-copyright holders are eventually thrown out, they’re worth a punt for an already-wealthy individual or corporation, and serve as a substantial intimidation for any new creators.
It’s fucked, frankly, and can only get worse unless we adapt. And we have to adapt now.
Because remember, these laws were originally meant to stimulate creativity, not stifle it by allowing the creator of anything new at all to be taken to court.
- tl;dr - copyright laws started with the best intentions, but when people can pass copyrights on, and when corporations can hold them forever, they prevent people making new things.
So, what do copyright laws need?
I’ve thought very hard about this. I don’t have all the answers. But here’s what I think is an appropriate set of criteria for copyright law in the early 21st century:
- Any creator holds the copyright for their entire life, unless they willingly waive it. This will need to be reassessed as human lifespans tend towards immortality. We’ll need some sort of cut-off point once people can live indefinitely, though I’m hopeful that sort of cultural change will, after a few generations, make our current desperate mortal struggle to make as much as we can in our short, stupid lives, seem a bit pointless. I’m hoping for a post-Want Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom (read that book - it’s free and awesome) style Whuffie society, because little else makes much sense.
- Upon the death of the original creator, his or her estate holds the copyright for a short period (e.g. five years) to ease the transition and to profit from the post-death mourning-sales. Even Tupac wasn’t releasing anything good five years after he died.
- If a work is created by a corporation (a proper, incorporated, limited liability company), it is held for whatever the average human lifespan is at time of creation in the country of that corporation’s headquarters. Downside: human lifespans will almost certainly increase over the duration of the copyright. Upside #1: most creators don’t make their profitable works when they’re zero years old, so they get more time than an individual would. Upside #2: they have an incentive to move their HQ to a country where people live long, providing an interesting economic exploit analogous to tax-havens. So it’s not like they’re getting totally screwed or anything.
- If a work is created by a group of people (e.g. a band), then each individual’s share of the copyright is held by them or their estate for the same transition period (5 years) after the death of the last member. Yes, this would give a Yoko Ono a very nice nest-egg. Suck it up. It does give people an incentive to form bands, and I have no problem with that.
- If the copyright to a work is bought by a corporation, they can only hold it until the end of the transition period (5 years, shit, haven’t you been paying attention?) after the death of the last creator of that work. Because why should they have any different rights to a creator’s estate?
I think that covers it. This is a really damn long article, and I’ve tried to be sensible, rather than just “Copy everything, fuck the industry LOL” because that’s stupid. I hope I’ve been fair and equitable.
I’d love your input. What do you think?
Effectively, it appears that the US government wants to seize someone and drag them across the ocean to face federal charges for doing something that was (a) perfectly legal in his home country and (b) probably legal in the US.
And, of course, the politicians here in the UK are just rolling over on this because it’s easier to do fuck all than to point out that the US Justice Department has precisely zero jurisdiction here. Good work, you lazy bloated fucks. Ever wonder why everyone distrusts you?
On Superinjunctions, Censorship, And Freedom
This is Richard Hillgrove. He and his ridiculous fucking hat that he seems to wear in every picture think that they’re a “business and public relations consultant” (source), and thus their opinions on Twitter are worth a damn.
Oooooh yeah, I’m rolling up my sleeves on this one.
Y’see, Richard and his hat have got all in a tizzy over the current drama happening here in the UK over Twitter and Superinjuctions, and written about it in The Guardian today.
Now, for those of you outside the UK, let me give you some background. The tabloid press over here are, frankly, a bunch of rabid dogs eager to tear the throats out of anyone they please if it helps them sell a few more papers. Although I accept that celebrities, upon pursuing celebrity, forego some of their privacy (because being an attention-seeker means you’re going to get attention), it’s fair enough that they should be able to take a shit without someone trying to shove a telephoto lens into their crotch. Wanting to be a pop-star does not and should not mean you’re giving tacit approval for sexually explicit images of you to be traded. But you’re going to have to accept people will like to talk about you. Your life is exciting, compared to most people’s, so of course we’re going to talk.
Russell Brand had a decent take on this from the other side of the celebrity fence, in that interview I reblogged a month ago, and despite being on the other side of the fame-barrier, I agree with him.
Ahhh, moral and ethical grey areas. The source of 90% of the legal bullshit in the world.
In an attempt to reign in the ranting, feverish, chase-you-down-the-street-and-go-through-your-bins portion of the British press, courts have tried to apply some common sense and good judgement. But it’s a complex and relatively new issue, with no clearly delineated and widely applicable precedents and guidelines, so there’s still problems.
We’ve got pretty strict laws over defamation now, so the press started getting around that by claiming unnamed sources had told them the information (“a friend of the star tells us that… etc.”), effectively shifting the blame and making prosecution more difficult. So, in response, people started getting injunctions, which is where the press are banned from discussing a case for some set period. This is in cases where such discussion could potentially cause harm.
The press responded by reporting that “a footballer” or “a well-known TV personality” had taken out an injunction against them, implying that there was some super-exciting gossip going down in court. And then alluding, as unsubtly as they could, to who it was and what had happened.
And hence we ended up with the superinjunction, which is where the press are banned from even discussing that they’re not allowed to talk about something. They’ve just got to pretend it isn’t happening.
Which is not to say they don’t just fucking make up stories off the top of their heads when pushed for a deadline. Richard Peppiatt, a former tabloid hack, admitted to doing so in an open letter to his former boss.
Anyway, I think we’re all up to speed now. And that brings us to the current state of play, which is that Twitter is currently being sued by a British footballer for breaking a superinjunction he took out. The footballer in question is called Ryan Giggs, and he plays for Manchester United. He’s a long-serving member of the team, and has an image of being a family man. Except he’s been shagging a model on the side for a while. When this came to light, he got a superinjunction to prevent it being reported, presumably using the argument that the media whirlwind would be harmful to his family.
Yeah, it probably would. But does that mean the newspapers shouldn’t be allowed to report the truth? I have sympathy for anyone hurt by this whole thing, and perhaps something needs to be done to force the media to exercise some restraint and sensitivity, but they should absolutely not be prevented from reporting the truth. If people are going to get hurt, the papers are not the ones to blame; Ryan Giggs is the one to blame. Celebrities should not be allowed to use the courts to censor and airbrush their shitty behaviour. If you know you’re under scrutiny, either give up the lifestyle, or don’t pretend to be a monogamist when in truth you like sleeping around, because sooner or later the truth will out. Shakespeare said that in 1596; it’s about time we got the message.
Of course, the truth about this superinjunction leaked, and once something’s on the internet the best way to get everyone telling everyone about it is to tell everyone they’re not allowed to tell anyone about it. Twitter went berserk for it. People who didn’t even know who Ryan Giggs is, who didn’t live in this country, and didn’t care in the slightest, ended up knowing about this transgression he’d tried to suppress. An MP, Richard Hemming, was a bit of a cock about it, and stood up in Parliament to abuse his Parliamentary Privilege (exemption from defamation laws, among other things) to announce the story and say that 75,000 tweeters had already told the story that the papers were still legally prevented from even mentioning.
At this point the media basically said Fuck It and started publishing it as well. They’re discussing the legal position at the G8 conference. Well done Giggs; your inability to live up to your stupid façade by keeping your dick in your pants, followed by your ill-judged attempt to censor the truth, have turned your little domestic into an international issue discussed by world-leaders. Is this going as well as you hoped it would?
In yet another ill-judged move, Giggs is now pressing charges against Twitter for failing to uphold the superinjunction, and planning on taking people to court over this. In fact, by writing and publishing this blog, I’m also technically breaking the superinjunction. I’ll bet that 75,000 has risen to something of the order of a million by now, so I expect it’ll take a while for his lawyers to get to me. In fact, I’d sort of like him to attempt to sue each and every person who broke his superinjunction, one by one. It would absorb the entire British legal and court system for years. No other cases would be heard, no other criminals tried; just one dickhead, endlessly whining about how his kids should be prevented from knowing that he’s a dickhead.
This brings me, however, to our twat in the hat, Richard Hillgrove. Richard (+ hat) just doesn’t get Twitter. So, of course, like everyone who doesn’t get Twitter, he wants to tell Twitter how it should work. He says it is a publisher, and as such it should be subject to the same rules as other publishers.
WAY TO MISS THE POINT RICHARD HILLGROVE AND RICHARD HILLGROVE’S STUPID HAT.
I’m not even talking about the legal issues of trying to apply British law to an American company. No; it is wrong to characterise Twitter as a publisher, because it is not. Twitter is a medium.
Twitter is not the newspaper; Twitter is the ink.
Saying it’s the publisher because it has advertisers is simplistic and wrong. Just because a company is earning money, that doesn’t mean they fit into an old-media definition. Let’s consider Hotmail, for example. In the absence of Twitter, perhaps people could have communicated Giggs’ infidelity via email. Does that make email the publisher? Should Giggs have sued email? Because that’s the level we’re at here. A person who makes a microphone isn’t responsible for the words that are spoken into it. A person who makes a printer isn’t responsible for the words that are printed on it. The publisher is the individual, and Twitter simply provides a medium for them.
Richard Hillgrove and his cartoonish, overcompensating hat don’t get that. And then, just to demonstrate how little either of them understand Twitter, he makes perhaps the dumbest suggestion I’ve ever heard anyone make about Twitter:
“Clearly, they are going to have to introduce a delay mechanism so that content can be checked before it goes up.”
I literally laughed out loud when I read that. He states in the previous sentence that Twitter has 175 million users. Or about 2.5 times the entire population of the UK. And he expects EVERYTHING they post to be vetted?
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?!?!?
WHERE IN THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING TO FIND THAT MANY PEOPLE TO SCRUTINISE EVERY TWEET?!?!?!?!?
What a simpleton.
I’m sure lots and lots of people in various stages of power would just love it if they could censor everything we say online, if they could shut off our connections if they decide they don’t like what we’re saying, if they had an expedient and centralised target for their legal attacks, but that’s not how the internet works.
Whatever blocks you put in place, you’re dealing with an army of people millions strong; billions strong, even. There are people among us who could have constructed something better than anything you can build without even trying. And when they pick apart and poke a hole in whatever you’ve built, they pass on the information to the rest of us. Any way you try to stop us accessing information, the information will just find a way around it. There’s always a way around.
Censor Twitter; we’ll all go somewhere else.
And that new place will have been specifically built to have none of the vulnerabilities that Twitter had.
And none of that would even be necessary if Ryan Giggs hadn’t been cheating on his wife. Perhaps, instead of governments of the world going to war with their own citizens over internet use, perhaps, just perhaps, the world would be a better place if Ryan Giggs had kept his fly zipped up.
P.S. Dear Richard Hillgrove; we all know you have male-pattern baldness. And a penis on your forehead. That hat, which looks like you bought it from a joke-shop, is fooling no one.
An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
Threatening Internet freedom in the UK
I was trying to pick which part of Google’s response to the UK government’s proposed Digital Economy Bill was the best to quote. Y’know what? It’s all good. This is relevant because so far the majority of the protests have come from individuals like me (I’ve written to both my MP, and a Lord), and currently our government seems to be under the impression that all those people who voted them into power can go fuck themselves if they think government should actually represent the views of the people. Clearly, in their minds, by being a member of the beleaguered and unpopular ruling party who are likely to get voted out in the next election, you gain the power of knowing better what’s good for the people than the people themselves do, though you are open to persuasion if, say, the head of a record label schmoozes you on his yacht for a few days.
Anyway, it’s good to see a major company, particularly one as relevant and influential as Google, stand against it as well. Microsoft; suck it up and join our side too, huh?
Here’s Google’s blog post:
“All too often, the public policy world focuses on subtle legislative distinctions and on regulatory details. But once in a while, an issue comes along that strikes to the heart of the big principles. Such an issue erupted last week in the UK - an issue that incorporates two of the most important subjects on these pages: privacy and innovation.
The British Government’s Digital Economy bill includes ideas that worry us - as well as other Internet companies such as Yahoo, Facebook and Ebay. In particular, we are concerned about the bill’s Clause 17 which, in an effort to fight piracy, would allow the Secretary of State to amend the Copyright Act to “prevent or reduce the infringement of copyright by means of the Internet” without additional legislation. All of us have joined together and written the UK government to express our opposition.
Let me explain why. The government’s stated attempt to spur Brits to get online in an ambitious Digital Britain project is laudatory. We do not object to fighting against infringement of copyright: in fact, we are often inventing new technology solutions to help content creators protect their material. A good example is our Video ID technology which identifies copyrighted material when it is uploaded onto YouTube and then helps the copyright holder sell advertising tied to the video. We also understand why the UK Government wanted to make their legislation future proof, to cope with technical change. But, as we have said many times in the past, legislation is often like a slow moving tank in the Internet world. Innovations happen faster than most politicians can even imagine, and to try and future proof laws requires laws so big and so powerful that the risks of misuse far outweigh the benefits.
While we remain unsure of how this Clause 17 is intended to be implemented, we fear it could require the Government to start gathering more information about users Internet habits, even when no illegal practices have taken place. The first step required of any government using these new powers would be to carry out some sort of assessment of whether significant copyright infringements are taking place. That assessment would have to be based on independent facts - and what “facts” exist other than through user data? Crucially, such an assessment would require examining the behaviour of all UK Internet users. This is wrong. We fiercely protect the privacy of our users across the world and do not believe that fear of illegal activity somewhere on the Internet is enough to justify intrusion of activity everywhereon the Internet.
Another concern with the Clause is that it could stifle the Internet’s innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Great new business models need legal clarity and regulatory space to come to market. Having powers like these in the back pocket, able to be used without significant Parliamentary oversight is enough to put off any young entrepreneur wanting to invent new ways of making content legally available. This was almost certainly not the intention’s of the Clause’s intentions. but good intentions don’t make great laws.
Posted by Sarah Hunter, UK Policy Manager”