Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Copyright, Censorship, And The Public Interest

I've written before about how copyright came about as part of a plan to censor religious publications in 1553, but has since morphed into a publishers', then artists' rights issue. This is despite the fact that counting on royalties and license fees for an income doesn't earn them as much as they get paid directly from merchandising and ticket sales from live performances. So why do they buy into it and why do our governments go along with it?

The roots of the problems are in a sort of political superstition called Neoliberalism. Add to that the growing distance between the people at the top and the bottom, and the credence we the people have given them as we hope to emulate their success, and the power they have over our media outside of the internet, and you can see why even those lower down the scale go along with it.

The religion and politics of economic policy

In America, this is the creed of the Republican Party, and some Libertarians go along with it, depending on the strength of their reasoning powers. Basically, the more idealistic and detached from reality they are, the more they tend to accept it. Any thought that challenges this is characterised as left wing, anarchist, or terrorist. Deregulation is their mantra, and they demand that all restraints are removed in order to free them to speculate and accumulate. However, this means they socialise the risks and leave the rest of us to deal with the ensuing mess.

Meanwhile, the powers of the state are harnessed to protect the monopolies that emerge from the inevitable consolidation of corporations while essential services are privatised and benefits for those left unemployed as a result of these policies are cut. Meanwhile, the people responsible are lionised as bringing prosperity and making our nations great because of all their lobbying, glad-handing, and campaign contributions. If Neoliberalism is a religion, money is its god, The Consitution of Freedom is its Bible, and intellectual property rights comprise many of the songs in its hymnbook. But, like a dangerous cult that relies on conformism and the abrogation of independent thought, neoliberalism pays no attention to the swathes of destruction it leaves in its wake and its tenets inform all the unfair laws and treaties I've been agitating against as a member of the Internet Freedom Movement admin team.

Current UK Government policy on copyright, IPR and censorship

I've been banging on a lot about censorship, the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse and the twaddle being used to support the Communications Data Bill and the Digital Economy Act 2010, the most egregious of which arrived in an email to yours truly from Policy Officer Stephanie Parry of the Copyright & IP Enforcement Directorate. Here are some highlights, along with my acerbic responses:

Providing a legitimate market for content, and encouraging people to use it, may make infringement less attractive.

Madam, it has been proven on many occasions and in many ways to do so. This is not an opinion, it's a fact.

However, enforcement of IP rights must also be supported by appropriate legislation, such as the Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010.

In what way is the Digital Economy Act (2010) appropriate? It's proving hard to implement because it was rushed through Parliament with little scrutiny or oversight as a favour to the RIAA by Lord Mandelson. It is not in the least bit appropriate and should be repealed.

It is important to note that what is being implemented is a mass notification campaign - as things stand there will be no threat of disconnection or any other technical measure - the DEA does contain reserve powers to introduce such measures if appropriate, but there is no current intention to do so.

And how will infringement be discovered? Using the user's IP address isn't going to work. My ISP provider regularly places me in Macclesfield or Uttoxeter. I live in Salford! I could end up paying £20 per accusation for someone else's infringement.

Actually, the Government is planning to put us all under surveillance to gratify the RIAA and MPAA. It's all in the Communications Data bill, and they pinkie promise not to search our emails. I don't believe that for a moment. Get a warrant if you want to search my emails.

 Regarding speculative invoicing, this is something which the law as it stood before the DEA permitted, as was demonstrated by the ACS Law case.

And it needs to stop. Now! How in the world can that be considered a legitimate use of the law? It's not a game, real people are suffering. And you want me to have confidence in this Government? Why? You're handing us over to these people with no concern at all for our welfare. We're the people, not prey!

The Report's aim is to give a broad overview of the scope and scale of IP crime for physical and digital products, and the effects it has on industry and consumers. It shows how IP crime can relate to other criminality, especially organised crime and the work government enforcement agencies and industry are doing to tackle it.

And you think website blocking, which has been proven to be ineffective, will work? If you don't understand how the internet works, you shouldn't legislate about it. While I'm on the subject, what sort of fool can decide that loading a page on the internet infringes copyright?

Look, Ms. Parry, the Government's main problem is willfully refusing to learn how the internet works, and it makes it very hard to either trust or take them seriously.

I would encourage you to continue participating in any future consultation exercises published on the Intellectual Property Office web site:

I already take part in the consultations as and when they arise, but you have not really answered any of my questions or the points I brought up and I fear that the Government is overly influenced by the pro-maximalist lobby.

Some good news that in my wrath I didn't notice until now:

Following the consultation, the government introduced amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (see and which is currently before Parliament. The relevant amendment seeks to reserve a power to introduce statutory codes of conduct for collecting societies if they fail to operate to minimum standards.

Sounds good in principle, but will the legislation be weak and ineffectual or actually hold those people to account? What are the standards? Will they mirror those of the European Commision's initiative? I'll take a closer look at them later. I haven't actually replied to that, but it is encouraging. The point is, she stonewalled and dismissed me on a number of issues while defending a completely stupid policy, and I called her on it. What she said in her email is they're planning some surface changes without making any real inroads into the level of reform that we actually need because they're very much in thrall to both the neoliberalism that is ruining our economy and the big corporations who want it kept that way.

They love to tell us we're calling censorship when they block websites to "combat criminality." Actually, the censorship we complain about is not about stopping us from watching popular films, etc., online, it's about letting people know about the alternatives to the services provided by the authorised distributors.

Social media censorship

The great glory of the internet is the connectiveness it gives us, with access to new ideas and new ways of thinking. I used to believe what I learned in the UK media because that's all I had access to, but since I got my internet connection I've been provided with a huge community of people who share my geeky interests from code to politics, sci-fi, fantasy, and zombies. Although I'm on Twitter and FB, I live in Google Plus and that's where I hold discussions, conduct my activism, and get things done. This is, of course, a matter of preference. Media bods often prefer Twitter. While Twitter has been praised for its robust defense of users' rights, it has recently disgraced itself in a horrible censorship story.

Twitter suspended journalist Guy Adams’ account for violating its privacy rules by tweeting the (publicly available) email address of NBC executive Gary Zenkel and lambased NBC for its coverage of the Olympics. Now it seems that his account has been restored because NBC withdrew its request. Here's the problem: Twitter has a partnership to work with NBC on its Olympics coverage, so it looks like they were obligated to deal firmly with the transgressor. That could safely be argued if it hadn't been a Twitter staff member who contacted NBC, showed them the tweet, then showed them how to file a complaint. The point is, when big money gets involved, our freedoms get the heave-ho.

Meanwhile, it appears that both FB and Twitter have refused to accept that Kim Dotcom is the real deal. In a story reported widely in the tech blogs, they have both refused to verify him because they don't accept his legal change of name. What's the betting this has something to do with his legal woes?

Thought police

Overzealous anti-terrorism measures are being used to address the social problems that result from the capitalist rampage that's been destroying the American economy. FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents raided activists' homes that targeted activists in Portland, Olympia, and Seattle in search of “anti-government or anarchist literature.” This is the result of  “domestic terrorism” training presentations, the idea being that challenging the social order by protesting about it somehow makes you a terrorist.

Emotion-laden words like "terrorist" and "traitor" are increasingly being used to justify a terrifying range of new laws and policies that threaten to further erode what rights we've got left. Using such words shapes the conversation and allows the aggressor to own the narrative. Therefore, anyone who had a go at supporters of Wikileaks' Julian Assange or Bradley Manning had a good guffaw at the notion that jailing or censoring him would lead to the erosion of the First Amendment and journalists being unable to report the news for fear of the sanctions they might be subjected to. Actually, that's what is beginning to happen. Disturbing reports coming in from the USA have made it clear that Congress is seriously considering , prosecuting journalists for publishing government secrets, provided it could be shown they knew the consequences of their actions would affect national security. How long till that provision goes?

IPR and the economy

Despite the fact that the benefits of IPR have been repeatedly debunked, the powers that be insist that IPR is the cornerstone of our economy, to the detriment of those of us with visual and other accessibility issues. If the restrictions of IPR is “worth it for society as a whole,” who is included in their notion of society? I've sent an email to the people responsible for this and hope to hear back from them soon. There is no way I'm going to let that stand!

IPR enforcement, as I've said any number of times, is more about control than the money to be made. That's why the lobbyists push for ineffectual laws. It's an effort to maintain their business models so they don't have to adapt.  It's why they conduct the business of treaties in secret. It's what all the surveillance is about. It's why the US government is making a huge fool of itself in the Dotcom/MegaUpload case, freezing Kim's assets and withholding the evidence it claims to have against him. It's why they're effectively letting Big Content impose their will on our ISPs. It's why copyright issues are driving the debate about neutrality. It's probably behind the mistreatment of the Olympics photographers in London. It's certainly behind the snack censoring debacle.

And despite the losses it causes to our economy, any attempts to reform it will be met with a storm of protest and dire warnings of doom because the people making the most money from it are the ones who influence our dearly beloved governments' policies. It's not, and never was, about our economy; it's about theirs.

What we can do

Since January I've been working with the Internet Freedom Movement to fight off the unfair laws and treaties that threaten our freedom. We've had tremendous success as part of a wider campaign to fight SOPA/PIPA, CISPA, and ACTA, all of which were derailed and/or rendered harmless by our email campaigns. We work by posting links to blog posts with explanatory text, then asking our followers to share our posts and contact their representatives. This has proved very effective to the point where we're at the stage where we can help to set policy.

I've been pushing for more consultation opportunities with those people I believe are able to make the changes we need and am heartened to learn that all the agitating is getting results. With that in mind, I recommend that anyone who wants to make a difference in the way we are governed should get involved in our campaigns and contact their representatives as and when we ask them to in order to persuade them to vote for laws that benefit the public interest. After all, as I told Ms. Parry, the lobbyists don't vote, we do.

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