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Feb 5

Parliamentary Human Rights Committee vs Digital Economy Bill

Posted on Friday, February 5, 2010 in filesharing, human rights, Politics

From Open Rights Group:

Jim Killock, 05 February 2010

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has released their analysis of the Digital Economy BIll, which has a pretty damning conclusion: we have a the right to a free trial. We must be presumed innocent. An the EU’s ‘internet freedom’ matters.

Read it, get angry, and take action!

Right to fair trial

One serious concern is around the lack of sufficient due judicial process. At the moment the Bill defines a process of appeals with no presumption of innocence. This process will be applied irrespective of the sanction or evidence. Natural justice dictates that the accused must have the opportunity / right to (before any sanction is imposed) a prior hearing decided upon by an independent third party where they are assumed innocent and the onus is on the ‘prosecution’ to prove guilt. In the particular case of disconnection – which is a severe punishment the need for a prior hearing based on an innocence presumption is unquestionably essential (irrespective of whether it is notionally considered a ‘civil offence’ or not).

We think that proposals are inconsistent with intent of the new ‘Internet Freedom’ clause and probably the letter of the clause as well. The text itself says “… measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed”. Mme Reding said yesterday “Effective and timely judicial review is as much guaranteed as a prior, fair and impartial procedure, the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy.” We simply cannot see how any fair reading of this clause could not sensibly conclude that in the case of disconnection a prior hearing based on an innocence presumption is required.

Proportionality

Alongside these concerns is a more general concern about the lack of proportionality in that, where citizen rights are threatened, proportionality requires that the least intrusive means is used to address a problem. The concern with s11 is that the way the reserve powers are cast means that there is no requirement to ensure that the most proportionate route is used or even attempted.

Conclusion

As we detail below the first model is preferable to the second model proposed under clauses 11- 14 of this Bill from the point of view of human rights. That is not to say however that it is not without its problems and difficulties as set out above. A fundamental problem with the whole approach to dealing with illegal file-sharing in the Digital Economy Bill is the difficulty in identifying the actual copyright infringer.However, the first model is clearly a more proportionate approach than the second, which could lead to disconnection and could breach the right to freedom of expression. TalkTalk argue that no technical measure, such as disconnection, should be imposed on an individual without proper and fair due process including a starting presumption of innocence, the need for the rightsholders to prove ‘guilt’ and a process for ensuring that any sanction is proportionate to the particular circumstances. It is morally and legally wrong to impose sanctions without ex ante due process particularly given the unreliability of the evidence used as the basis of the allegations, and the fact that the human rights of many innocent internet users could be detrimentally affected.

Full text

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Feb 3

Only Idiots Assume!

Posted on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 in civil liberties, culture, Politics, surveillance society

The Dark Lord Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill, through allowing households to be disconnected from the Internet without any judicial say, would severely undermine the rule of law in this country. Other elements of the Bill would allow Mandelson and his successors to give police-level enforcement powers to any individual or organisation they choose, and to block any websites they choose at any time, in secret, and without having to give a reason – censorship the likes of which would make a Chinese Communist Party official squirm with delight. The Don’t Disconnect Us campaign has run a contest to produce a viral protest against this authoritarian nonsense. The winning entry is below:


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Jan 26

To Save You We Have to Subjugate You

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 in civil liberties, database state, Politics, surveillance society

Professor Ian Walden suggests reasons why the government has succeeded in growing its surveillance society:

“Once happy to leave cyberspace ‘unregulated’, Governments, including that of the UK, seem increasingly willing to encroach on what we do, say and see over the Internet,” said Professor Walden, head of the Institute of Computer and Communications Law at Queen Mary, University of London.

He warned that increasing use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will give the authorities access to information about individuals’ private lives.

”As we spend more of our lives online, concerns about the impact of surveillance on rights of expression and privacy are likely to increase,” he said.

Professor Walden, a former trustee on the Internet Watch Foundation, the industry self regulatory body, said that problems such as child pornography, illegal file sharing and terrorism are used to justify ‘Big Brother-like’ scrutiny of all internet activity, even though the vast majority of web users are law abiding.

“The police clearly took advantage of the terrorist bombing in London to get an agenda, which has been around for years, pushed to the forefront” he said.

“They would never have got Government support for data retention, which became a European issue, without the Madrid and London bombings.” The 2004 Madrid bombers used one shared web based email account to make plans, rather than exchanging messages that could be intercepted. Their actions killed 191 people and wounded over 1,000.

I think it’s a pretty accurate analysis of what’s going on right now, without necessarily explaining why. It’s clear paedophilia is ‘in vogue’ with the government – why else persist with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) when there is demonstrably no need for it? Ian Huntley killed Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, but it wasn’t because of an absence of government regulation of people working in the public sector or with children. Notice too how propaganda against digital piracy is being posed as an economic and creative threat to us all, when each has plenty of evidence not to be the case. And just look at how photographers are being harassed, under the ridiculous pretext of having to clamp down on terrorist reconnaissance.

But I don’t think any of them will remain successful factors which push indefinitely towards ever greater surveillance. The resistance against the ISA is considerable, from teachers to writers and parents. The resistance against the presumption that all photographers are terrorists led to an unbelievable turnout at the Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square last Saturday, and there are complicated groupings beginning to ally against Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill. There’s a tipping point in this process, and I think we’re fast approaching it. I’ll be interested to see what else Prof Walden has to say at his lecture at Queen Mary, University of London next week.

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Dec 28

Digital ‘Piracy’ Is NOT the Same as Physical Piracy

Posted on Monday, December 28, 2009 in civil liberties, News

Intellectual Property Minister David Lamy shows a similar grasp of the issues around filesharing to Peter Mandelson:

UK Intellectual Property Minister David Lammy gave a speech to the MPAA in Washington DC recently during which he defended Lord Mandelson’s controversialevolved” plans to disconnect repeat file-sharers from the Internet.

He said the proposal was important in “sending a clear message: when it comes to piracy and infringement, ‘digital is not different.’”

It’s the same sort of 1:1 lost sale nonsense that belies the mounting studies that have concluded the opposite: P2P increases music consumption.

Check out the final link where it shows the research that filesharers buy ten times as much music as they download. Is that really the same as ‘real’ piracy? I don’t think so. And is barring people from the Internet for repeat filesharing, which has hit neither music nor film takings, really the right solution? Finland qualifies Internet access as a human right – what right then should Peter Mandelson have to cut whole families’ access, without even the say-so of a judge or jury? This is continuing spin in the favour of specific corporate interests, and the government should be called for it.

The Digital Economy Bill is a disgusting, illiberal piece of legislation which threatens all of our freedom of speech. It must be stopped, and the first step is by calling it out for what it is.

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Dec 13

Mandelson Aims for Chinese Style State Censorship

Posted on Sunday, December 13, 2009 in human rights, What Makes Us Angry

A lot of hyperbole is given over in this country to the idea that we’re somehow drifting into a police state. Some of it is valid, much of it isn’t – Jacqui Smith may have justified the Metropolitan Police’s arrest of shadow cabinet member Damian Green earlier in the year, but where is she now? The police may have been used a number of times this year to attack violently protest groups which the state decided were behaving contrary to its interests, but the furore was so great they’re certainly not operating overtly in such a way at present. Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill however in its current form would give him powers the likes of which the Chinese would envy:

What is the problem with clause 11 that I am getting so alarmed about it? It amends the Communications Act 2003 to insert a new section 124H which would, if passed, give sweeping powers to the Secretary of State. It begins:

(1) The Secretary of State may at any time by order impose a technical obligation on internet service providers if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate in view of—Pausing there. Note that this says nothing at all about copyright infringement. For example the power could be used to:

  • order ISP’s to block any web page found on the Internet Watch Foundation’s list
  • block specific undesireable sites (such as wikileaks)
  • block specific kinds of traffic or protocols, such as any form of peer-to-peer
  • throttle the bandwidth for particular kinds of serivce or to or from particular websites.

In short, pretty much anything.

I do not exagerrate. The definition of a “technical obligation” and “technical measure” are inserted by clause 10:

A “technical obligation”, in relation to an internet service provider, is an obligation for the provider to take a technical measure against particular subscribers to its service.A “technical measure” is a measure that— (a) limits the speed or other capacity of the service provided to a subscriber; (b) prevents a subscriber from using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use; (c) suspends the service provided to a subscriber; or (d) limits the service provided to a subscriber in another way.As you can see blocking wikileaks is simply a matter of applying a technical measure against all subscribers of any ISP.

Surely something must limit this power you ask? It seems not. The Secretary of State may make an order if “he considers it appropriate” in view of:

(a) an assessment carried out or steps taken by OFCOM under section 124G; or (b) any other consideration.Where “any other consideration” could be anything.

freedom-of-speech

Francis Davey’s superb analysis of the bill is truly terrifying. The Digital Economy Bill would not just give Mandelson (or his successors) the power to ban say child porn sites immediately, but Wikileaks or any other site the state had issues with as well – on a whim. The power would not be limited by judicial or parliamentary scrutiny – it would be absolute. You’d have no idea he’d blocked the site, you’d have no comeback against him, and in short this would give government the ability to censor the internet as and when it saw fit in the most draconian manner imaginable. Davey’s right when he says this isn’t even about censorship – it’s a continuation of the regular New Labour attack on the rule of law and evidence based policy making. He (and they) must be stopped in this mad quest, because freedom of speech really is under threat, and if passed for example all the twitter campaigning the likes of which have shown some effectiveness against particular villains in the last year would be made futile by this bill.

No doubt the government will trot out it’s common spiel that there are no current plans to use this element of the bill, but if such powers aren’t needed then why develop them? History has always shown that powers when available are always used – RIPA, SOCPA, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, you name it. Government agencies will line up to say the abuses of such powers weren’t what they intended, yet their very existence has led to local government and the Home Office to stamp all over civil liberties, be it against photography of public buildings in public areas or the right to protest itself. If Mandelson is allowed to bring about what’s contained in this bill we will move one step further towards a genuine police state, and that’s something we should all fear.

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Nov 20

Filesharing: Mandelson Aims For Absolute Power

Posted on Friday, November 20, 2009 in culture, What Makes Us Angry

Peter Mandelson has gone a step too far:

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson is planning to introduce changes to the Digital Economy Bill now under debate in Parliament. These changes will give the Secretary of State (Mandelson — or his successor in the next government) the power to make “secondary legislation” (legislation that is passed without debate) to amend the provisions of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

What that means is that an unelected official would have the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright.

Of course it’s not unusual for New Labour to sidestep the rule of law. They did it with the Extradition Act, for which Gary McKinnon is paying a price, they’re doing it with the Independent Safeguarding Authority, for which we’re all paying a slow price, and they did it with Iraq, for which the whole world has paid a price. Unelected Peter Mandelson plans to give himself unlimited power to make laws and not have them subjected to scrutiny or approval by a single elected representative. It’s not just unfair, it’s a crime against democracy. To expand:

1. The Secretary of State would get the power to create new remedies for online infringements (for example, he could create jail terms for file-sharing, or create a “three-strikes” plan that costs entire families their internet access if any member stands accused of infringement)

2. The Secretary of State would get the power to create procedures to “confer rights” for the purposes of protecting rightsholders from online infringement. (for example, record labels and movie studios can be given investigative and enforcement powers that allow them to compel ISPs, libraries, companies and schools to turn over personal information about Internet users, and to order those companies to disconnect users, remove websites, block URLs, etc)

3. The Secretary of State would get the power to “impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement” (for example, ISPs could be forced to spy on their users, or to have copyright lawyers examine every piece of user-generated content before it goes live; also, copyright “militias” can be formed with the power to police copyright on the web)

mandyThese are all basic constitutional infringements – and for what threat? With the ISA it was to combat paedophilia which is apparently so widespread it threatens every vulnerable person in or around a workplace. Except it doesn’t. With Iraq it was to protect us all from weapons of mass destruction. Except there weren’t any. Now Mandelson is gunning for absolute power because piracy threatens what? Our culture? No. Our creative industries? Have you seen just how well the film industry is doing? He’s been told file sharing threatens the excess profits of New Labour’s corporate friends, and he’s making an unprecedented power grab to stop it. Andy Robinson of the Pirate Party UK asks:

What exactly is the ‘first tier tribunal’ referred to in the Digital Economy Bill? If that phrase does not mean ‘a court of law with a judge, jury and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty’, what is the justification for throwing out one of the major pillars of the British legal system?

Why should consumers not open their internet connection over wifi as a service to the community, and why shoul they not be treated as common carriers when they do so?

Why are libraries being given the right to ‘lend’ audio books digitally, but not the right to lend music and films digitally?

Why is file sharing good when libraries do it and bad when the public does it?

How will disconnecting people from the internet possibly help the bill’s stated goal of ‘securing the UK’s position as one of the world’s leading digital knowledge economies’?

Why did the text of the bill appear on a record industry owned website before it appeared on any government site?

The bill includes a provision for unappointed, unelected, monopoly collecting societies to “assume a mandate to collect fees on behalf of rights holders who have not specifically signed up to that society.” Why should doing this be considered anything less than criminally defrauding the people these fees will be collected from and stealing copyright (in the true sense of claiming ownership, not the way it is misused as a synonym for infringement)?

Why does the government see file sharing as both to trivial that it can be dealt with by just sending a letter and simultaneously so serious that it warrants the imposition of a new £50,000 fine?

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, why does the bill not even mention the concept of ‘fair use’?

These are vital questions which should concern us all. In addition to constitutional norms, Mandelson is attacking basic cultural norms. My question is this – why should the concerns of Big Media trump a) the rule of law and b) the concerns of internet file sharers, whom it has been shown spend more on films and music? Rupert Goodwins quite rightly says:

industry bodies, such as the BPI, FAST and so on, [will be given] powers of investigation tantamount to those of the police force. The risk of copyright infringment would be enough to force any company to patrol its actions and offerings, closing down anything that might land them in the dock. The freedom of the Internet would be gone. It is placing the future of the Net, with the force of law, in the hands of those who depend on artificial scarcity. It is antithetical to everything that matters in the digital world.

Freedom in the real world has been under concerted attack by these people, and they’re now extending their control to the digital world. They must be stopped at all costs.

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Sep 25

Bullying the Argument Away from Copyright Reform?

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2009 in civil liberties, Editorial

Lily Allen’s shrill and ultimately hypocritical argument that filesharing causes blanket damage to musicians, and that Peter Mandelson’s threat to throw users off the internet is a valid one, is masking the true problem here. Doctorow suggests:

Copyright is problematic for everyone: musicians, fans, bloggers. The absence of clear affirmative rights to make personal copies, to share with your friends, to copy for the purposes of discussion and commentary (as opposed to the fuzzy and difficult-to-interpret fair use guidelines, which have been further confused by the entertainment industry’s bold attempts to convince us all that they don’t matter and can’t be relied upon) means that we’re all in a state of constant infringement.

A law that no one understands and no one abides by is no law at all. Parts of copyright — the right to regulate how commercial licenses with industrial entities work — are really important to me and to all working artists. But if we continue to try to expand copyright to cover everything, every interaction that involves a copy (which is every interaction these days), then the broad consensus that copyright is nonsense will continue to grow, and we’ll lose the good stuff as well as the ridiculous stuff.

MMF FAC Launch

He has a good point. The precursor blog to this site was once set upon by a newspaper journalist whose (uncredited) piece I used (and fully linked to/did not take credit for) to illustrate the impact of an entirely unrelated story. Was I breaching copyright? I don’t think so – he was of an entirely different opinion though. The issue at hand in this debate about filesharing is surely about copyright reform – addressing the enormous gap between creators and rights holders. I’ll see if I can nudge The Secret Musician into posting their opinions about that! Why though has the Featured Artists Coalition moved closer to Allen/John/Barlow/Blunt et al’s argument?

We the undersigned wish to express our support for Lily Allen in her campaign to alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry and to condemn the vitriol that has been directed at her in recent days.

Our meeting also voted overwhelmingly to support a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer’s bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional.

Weird. The difference between that and Mandelson’s position is marginal, and it’s not what they were arguing at the beginning of the month.

edit: I’ve just seen this story. Fascinating, and it blurs the issue even further. Why would the FAC have a different position to Allen one day, then “cheer her” as she entered their meeting last night? Intriguing that she should be there, even more curious that what appears to be a massive compromise (read Ed O’Brien’s comments) should be in her favour…

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Sep 23

Muse’s Matt Bellamy vs. Lily Allen

Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 in civil liberties, News

It’s not just the Featured Artists Coalition lining up against Lily Allen, Elton John, James Blunt, Gary Barlow et al in the filesharing debate. Muse’s Matt Bellamy has written to Lily Allen herself, arguing:

“My current opinion is that file sharing is now the norm,” Bellamy wrote, adding that internet service providers [ISPs] “are not being taxed by the copyright owners correctly”.

Bellamy then compared the internet to radio and TV, both of which pay copyright owners a fee for using material they do not own. “Broadband makes the internet essentially the new broadcaster. This is the point which is being missed,” he stated.

“Also, usage should have a value. Someone who just checks email uses minimal bandwidth, but someone who downloads 1GB per day uses way more, but at the moment they pay the same. It is clear which user is hitting the creative industries and it is clear which user is not, so for this reason, usage should also be priced accordingly.

“The end result will be a taxed, monitored ISP based on usage which will ensure both the freedom of the consumer and the rights of the artists.”

mattBellamyHairstyleIt seems to fit in with the Canadian idea of a form of internet taxation to change behaviour, whilst acknowledging that technologically the genie is very much out of the bottle. I don’t agree that taxing usage makes much sense – I use about 1GB a day without illegally downloading a single thing and don’t think I should be penalised for doing so. The Canadian model makes more sense because it doesn’t set out to punish, which is a largely pointless exercise in this debate anyway – no government has the resources needed to detect, catch and punish the number of people who download illegally as Peter Mandelson has mooted.

Does there need to be a system for identifying which internet users do hit creative industries? Perhaps, but I’ll be damned if I can think how. I support very highly the notion of an internet free from needless regulation and control, and fear this could be the top of a very slippery slope. Surely the real issue is copyright reform and how creators are adequately paid by rights holders?

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Sep 22

I’m Lily Allen And I’ll Try Anything…

Posted on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 in civil liberties, News


I’m sure Katy Brand had no idea when she was lampooning Lily Allen, saying she would ‘try anything’, that she really would try anything. From the blog she set up to put forward her views against filesharing she reports:

Famed rapper 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) was apparently on CNBC recently talking about his “business acumen.” I have to admit that having three different people all trying to interview him at once is rather annoying — as they almost never let him complete a thought. However, when they ask him about piracy, and whether or not it makes him angry (around 2 minutes), he responds that: he sees it as a part of the marketing of a musician, because “the people who didn’t purchase the material, they end up at the concert.”

However Michael Masnick at Techdirt says:

Famed rapper 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) was apparently on CNBC recently talking about his “business acumen.” I have to admit that having three different people all trying to interview him at once is rather annoying — as they almost never let him complete a thought. However, when they ask him about piracy, and whether or not it makes him angry (around 2 minutes), he responds that: he sees it as a part of the marketing of a musician, because “the people who didn’t purchase the material, they end up at the concert.”

katybrandGuess whose article belongs to whom. It’s remarkable that someone who is so vocal against piracy should break copyright so readily. I however find her anti-piracy position particularly remarkable, given the route which her rise to stardom took. Word of mouth in the internet age can only really come from the internet, and is only really going to be based on people sharing music they’re interested in and excited about. Why is Lily Allen so eager to bite the hand which fed? The Pirate Party UK suggests:

Lily Allen is a decidedly old media creation, tarting herself up with new media to boost sales but otherwise not interested in it. At the same time, Allen is the wannabe voice for an on-line generation. The truth is that she does not speak for that generation. Allen spends too much time talking to her accountants and not enough time listening to her audience. The sledgehammer laws that Allen endorses could only succeed in punishing music fans and reducing her own profits.

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Sep 21

Elton and Lily Say Filesharing Is ‘Not Alright’!

Posted on Monday, September 21, 2009 in civil liberties, News

Elton John has come out in support of Lily Allen’s stance on filesharing:

Elton_John

In a letter to the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, he said: “I am of the view that the unchecked proliferation of illegal downloading (even on a “non-commercial” basis) will have a seriously detrimental effect on musicians, and particularly young musicians and those composers who are not performing artists.”

The letter comes as talks to heal a growing rift in the music industry over piracy broke down today , with a group of artists including Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Billy Bragg and Tom Jones accusing labels of stubbornness.

The artists are part of the Featured Artists Coalition, whose members also include Annie Lennox and Blur’s Dave Rowntree. The FAC took the rest of the music industry by surprise by publicly announcing that it has “agreed to disagree” with labels over government proposals to suspend the internet connections of persistent filesharers.

I’d love for one of these mega-artists to prove just how filesharing has a detrimental effect on musicians. Taio Cruz, currently number 1 in the UK says:

“I could have been dropped from my record deal because so much was spent and so much of my album was leaked and not paid for. But luckily my label had great belief in me. File-sharing has had a very, very negative effect on my career, as it has on many others.”

He added: “I think it’s very positive to see that other artists, along with the government, are coming together to defend the right to protect our art.”

This is all hyperbole and no fact. The Wolverine movie was widely leaked before its cinema release, but the leak to p2p services made no impact to its takings. In fact considering how awful a movie it turned out to be, it was shocking that its leak had no financial impact. How on earth has Cruz’s album being leaked had a negative effect on his career? How can Elton say sharing music has a ‘detrimental effect’? Lily Allen says:

The music industry is now facing destruction because people have stopped buying music. For every car sold in the UK , a small piece of that profit will go to the designers of the cars, there are thousands ands thousands of other people working in the motor industry that need to be paid too. If we stop paying for a product, the industry supporting that product falls apart, as we have seen over the past few years. i hope that made sense….

Well sorta, but I don’t think the comparison is a valid one. Unless she can prove that the downturn in music sales is uniquely down to filesharing, there’s no reason why the downturn in the music industry hasn’t been down to a period of terribly bad product being made. And she can’t. And neither she nor Elton has attempted to come up with a credible justification as to why the government should be able to terminate households’ internet connections for what is overwhelmingly a civil offence. Maybe they should take their blinkers off and start encouraging their colleagues to make better music, just to see what happens!

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Sep 9

Pirates: Fringe Politics or What We’ve Been Waiting For?

Posted on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 in Community, government

proxy

A group largely comprised of techie nerds sitting in a treehouse may not sound like a mainstream political party meeting (it’s the season for them) but that was exactly the scene at the initial public meeting of the newly-incorporated Pirate Party UK. Andrew Robinson, party leader, declared that ‘the law isn’t keeping pace with technology’ and that the party, recently acknowledged as such by the Electoral Commission, was there to bring this fundamental issue to the top of the political agenda; he hoped that this would be achieved by winning a sizeable proportion of the vote in the contests in which it could afford to run. With the general election fast approaching, the size of the mountain they have to climb became quickly apparent; they have a lot to prove, and quickly. But they want to get their policies right first.

In the last month, the Pirates have come a stone’s throw away from becoming more popular on Facebook than the Labour Party. They’re barely up and running but already have 500 paid members and are growing very quickly. There was definitely a sense that, unlike many recent attempts to form new political parties to challenge the ‘big three’, reluctant politician Robinson’s party had formed organically, that certain specific issues close to the heart of a sizeable, young, technologically aware generation of largely young people, were not being addressed by the other parties, and there was a gap that the Pirates could fill. Their meteoric rise has meant much of the detail is still being worked on, but they are determined to be positive. This is a party which is happy to assert what it stands for, rather than what it opposes.

What excites them most of all is the question of copyright reform — don’t call it ‘intellectual property’ — and the way in which, since its inception, copyright has moved from lasting a simple 14 years to a staggering 90 after the death of the author of the work. They are incensed at the idea of locking up culture forever and, unlike Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems, talk a great deal about communities; largely virtual ones, of course, but it fits in with their technological background. The government and the law haven’t kept pace with technological change? Robinson and his audience most definitely have.

According to the party the principle is the sharing of knowledge and enhancement of cultural life. They point to studies which show that, when it comes to music filesharing (‘try before you buy’), the music industry can enchance its profits; that copyright theft has nothing to do with ‘illegal’ downloading but, rather, everything to do with artists signing the rights to their own work away to record companies in return for access to the mass market. And, therefore, it’s these corporate entities, with their objective of maximising profits, they maintain, who are responsible for the real theft. They don’t submit artists’ work into a free market but artificially determine the market themselves, and therefore reap the majority of the rewards. It’s a surprisingly Marxist analysis of the music industry, which Adorno himself would be proud of. Will the Pirates need to sell an anti-capitalist argument in order to effect the change they insist is needed? Robinson claims the party exists outside the traditional left/right split, yet it exists in a society now dominated by a neo-liberal paradigm which has no interest in compromising with the Pirates. Small in number, they run the risk of being defeated by being outnumbered and outgunned by an opposition which holds financial cards they currently can only dream of.

Where does the party go from here? If the numbers are anything to go by, and if the speed of their upward trajectory continues along the same line since the Telegraph announced their arrival, then they are as uniquely poised to capture the votes of disaffected, technologically aware youth as their Swedish counterparts. There’s the sense that the attempts in recent years to form parties to capitalise on dissent have failed: arguably because they didn’t know how to walk the line between protest movement and political party. However, this closely-knit and highly intelligent group seems to have its head screwed on far tighter. It’s about more than just protesting against Peter Mandelson’s suspiciously abrupt volte-face from the Digital Britain report’s recommendations; it acknowledges that the social shaping of technology is real, and that the internet has moved issues such as copyright, surveillance and privacy on. Gone are the days where politicians could get away with claiming to be experts in such subjects; now the Pirates are coming to prominence because politicians have not kept pace with the technologically advanced, virtual lives and sophisticated communities of young people. If the Pirates really do successfully keep the issues which motivate their supporters in the mainstream and prove, even through saving just one deposit in the general election (a stated objective for the next year), that there’s a wellspring of feeling here, then they really could be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

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Aug 26

The Government Plans to Cut Your Internet Off

Posted on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 in civil liberties, government, News

The battle lines are being drawn. In June the government’s ‘Digital Britain’ report ruled out cutting people off from the internet for filesharing, but Peter Mandelson has decided to overrule its findings:

Under the tougher proposals, internet service providers would be obliged to block access to download sites, throttle broadband connections or even temporarily cut off access for repeat offenders.

Communications regulator Ofcom would report regularly to the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, providing evidence of whether such action is required against illegal filesharers.

The consultation document from Mandelson’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills proposes that the secretary of state could then direct Ofcom to implement a raft of new technical measures.

The Pirate Party UK’s responded by saying:

This is a massive announcement that threatens far more people than before, yet it has been hidden away in an update to a consultation document. We are only to be given 5 weeks to respond to this major announcement and defend our right to justice, a fair trial, and to defend the principle that collective punishments are wrong, despite the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills having a commitment to 12 week minimum consultation periods.

The other new announcement is that ISPs will be expected to share the cost of enforcement 50:50 with ‘rights holders’, a move which may well price independent artists and film-makers out of the process, and places an unjustifiable burden on ISPs who are a third party in disputes between file sharers and rights holders.

Yet again the Government have done exactly what the big media cartel have told them.

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It does seem awfully convenient that the government is more interested in listening to David Geffen than coming up with a workable solution to the problem of filesharing. The government should be forced to answer the question of whose rights they’re most interested in protecting: the rights of powerful rights holders? The rights of the artists themselves? The rights of users? Again however we are in the situation where the government has bought into an international, corporate agenda at the expense of those whose interests it’s really supposed to be protecting.

Former minister Tom Watson offers a thoughtful response to the controversy:

A much more fruitful path – economically, politically and socially – would be to ask why current economic and regulatory conditions are not bringing about enough legal alternatives to draw UK consumers away from illicit p2p. Working on the fairly safe assumptions that (a) people like downloading music from the internet, and (b) most people, given a choice, would prefer not to break the law, we should aim to map a way forward for businesses old and new to take advantage of the digital market in a way that allows them sufficient profits to invest in the creative talent of the future.

I couldn’t agree more – it seems like such common sense. Why criminalise 6-7 million people when they’re responding to technological change, and to a widely-shared perception that the artists whose product is being shared aren’t losing out through filesharing? If the potential losers in the p2p future are corporate, what’s government doing siding arbitrarily (and disproportionately) with them, and entirely against users (which is quite possibly illegal)?

If you’re against Mandelson’s kowtowing to Big Media join the Pirate Party UK here. You’ve seen how successful they were in Sweden. Join them here and send a message to New Labour.

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