Corporate Maneuverings

French politicians reject excessive internet piracy law

French politicians have rejected a draconian bill, backed by Nicolas Sarkozy, which would have applied a three strikes and no internet rule to people accused of illegal file sharing.

The legislation, inevitably enough, was backed by both the film and recorde industries. However, a number of consumer groups have pointed out that not only did the scheme amount to state surveillance but that it also carried a high risk of innocent people being caught in an excessively tight net.

Socialist parliamentarian Patrick Bloche called the bill dangerous, useless, inefficient, and very risky for us citizens.

French ministers are planning to re-introduce the bill within the next few weeks. Even if the French National Assembly passes it, though, the bill would be immediately rendered null and void by an earlier European Parliament ruling that bans the cutting of internet access to websurfers who illegally download copyrighted films or music.

Obviously, writers, musicians and artists should be able to derive an income from their activities commensurate with their popularity. The problem with legislative approaches to sharing content on the internet, though, is that they are less to do with protecting the incomes of artists and more about ensuring that traditional distribution companies can prevent new channels from emerging.

Enforcing a monopoly for distributors in this manner is not only anti-competetive but it is also a deeply flawed approach that will inevitably break down eventually. Rather than trying to use ever-more draconian legislation to defend an obsolete business modfel, distributors would fare a great deal better if they started treating their customers as customers and not as potential, or actual, criminals.

This means looking at how people want to find and buy content and establishing channels that ensure artists - and those supporting the artists - are able to derive an income from consumer behaviour as it is now.

Are book publishers making the same mistakes a the record labels?

Its certainly starting to look like it. TechDirt (via Slashdot) is pointing to an article in Slate which notes that publishers are worried about Amazons Kindle is about to give them the same dominance in book selling that Apple enjoys in online music distribution.

TechDirt then goes on to point out that Apples dominance is a result of the record labels demanding DRM on everything, creating the massive lock-in that Apple has been able to take advantage of.

If the record labels had, instead, pushed for an open solution, then anyone else could have built stores/players to work as well, and it could have minimized Apples ability to control the market. Yes, everyone is now opening up (including Apple), but it took a long time, and Apple had already established its dominant position.

And now book publishers are doing the same thing. Its the publishers that are pushing for DRM and limitations that will inevitably result in users being locked into Amazons platform. If the publishers had pushed for more open solutions, then barriers to entry would be lowered and a more competitive market could develop.

DRM is one of those technologies that looks like an easy solution in the short term but, in reality, it consistently comes back to bite us all.

Remember when

Found at Beyond the Iron Sky

Of heavy handed over-reactions and internet blackouts

Today Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde Kolmsioppi and Carl Lundstorm, the founders of Swedish file-sharing site, The Pirate Bay, are on trial on charges of copyright theft.

The site is being taken to court by several media firms, including Sony and Warner Bros., who claim that their profits are being harmed by the site and that it has been particularly harmful in distributing copyrighted works prior to their official release.

The defendants argue that their site is completely legal because none of the content is hosted on their computer servers and are seeking to portray themselves as digital libertarians.

A couple of thoughts spring to mind here, the first of which is to wonder how long this is going to take. Whatever the result of this case, there will be appeals and, I would guess, were talking several years before a final decision is arrived at. If, as is likely, the site remains up, running and tracking torrents for the whole of this time, the media companies are not doing a great deal to protect their bottom line right now.

The second, and more significant, thought is: What is the point? At the end of the day, The Pirate Bay is just a torrent tracker. The actual content is scattered across peoples PCs worldwide so, while shutting down the site may cause a temporary blip in filesharing activity, it isnt ultimately going to make any difference.

People will always seek to share content and always have done. Although technologies like BitTorrent and sites like The Pirate Bay makes this easier, the impulse to share is a human one and isnt going to go away. As such, targetting the ways in which people share content is as fruitless as trying to manufacture self-destructing books.

But if we travel a little further afield, things get even worse. I was half-way through writing this post when I happened to glance at Twitter and noticed that a lot of people were talking about a Blackout Campaign to protest against New Zealands Guilt Upon Accusation law that calls for internet disconnection based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up to court scrutiny. This law is due to come into effect on February 28th unless the countrys parliament takes action rather rapidly.

The campaign is being organised by The Creative Freedom Foundation which was founded in 2008 by artists and technologists Bronwyn Holloway-Smith and Matthew Holloway in response to Copyright law and its detrimental effect on creativity, the economy, and public rights.

The Foundation advocates on behalf of artists whose creative freedom is affected by major Governmental decisions made in their name, and in the name of protecting creativity. The Foundation represents the views of artists who dont want injustices in Copyright law done in their name, and who want to find better ways to work.

I shall leave the final words of this post to Nathan Torkington who very succinctly sums up pretty much everything I was planning to say:

The Internet has created new opportunities for artists: new opportunities to reach fans and new opportunities to earn a living. In the past, artists like us had to reach fans through companies that relied on old technology. These companies are now being forced to find new ways of doing business but instead of embracing the Internet theyre fighting it.

They fight progress by demanding changes to Copyright laws. In effect, they say, lock down the Internet so our 1960s way of doing business can still work in 2010. In doing so, they erode civil liberties and hold back the discovery of the new business models. They want to control the Internet just as movie companies wanted to control the VCR when it was first released. But, unlike then, courts and lawmakers are not safeguarding our interests.

Its time for artists to stand up and say: enough! The greatest problem that we artists face is obscurity, not piracy. Americas record companies have resorted to releasing malware and suing people without computers, alienating fans rather than figuring out how to turn them into satisfied customers. This cannot continue.

The Internet offers enormous opportunity for New Zealands artists to break out of obscurity and sell directly to millions of waiting fans. But if the record and movie companies get their way, snooping on innocent peoples Internet connections and acting outside the legal system, we risk training fans to have the same cynical attitude in return: to hell with them.

We dont endorse counterfeiting, mass duplication stores. These people hurt artists, robbing us of legitimate sales. But when an individual fan wants our work enough to go through the hassle of finding a way to pirate it online, we see that as an opportunity. Its an opportunity to meet the fan, to connect them to the artist, and ultimately for the artist to be rewarded for their work. This opportunity will be squandered in the world of restrictions, distrust, and civil rights abuses that the middlemen companies want to institutionalise.

Isle of Man gets real on filesharing

I have, in past posts, argued that the current music industry model of distributing music on physical objects is looking increasingly broken and that it would be better for the music industry to stop chasing file sharers and, instead, start developing a distribution model that actually works.

It appears that the Isle of Man agrees. They are proposing to introduce a compulsory blanket licence for music downloads under which broadband ISP subscribers would pay a nominal compulsory tax, but be able to share music legally.

The idea of legalising P2P rather than stopping it is an ancient one: its been used to create for new technologies for over a hundred years. Where its too complicated and/or expensive to count or police individual exchanges, a blanket licence has been issued.

Im not entirely convinced about the fact that the charge would be applied to all subscribers. Not all internet users share files so simple fairness dictates that ISP customers should be able to choose between a high bandwidth, “taxed” account or a lower bandwidth “untaxed” account. But this move is certainly a step in the right direction and it will be interesting to see whether any other states follow the Manx lead.

On a related note, a TNO study for the Dutch government has concluded that filesharing is good for the economy. The report notes that, although filesharing does affect media industry profits, the net effect is that more media are available overall.

The report also notes that downloading and buying are not mutually exclusive: downloaders on average buy just as much music as non-downloaders, but they buy more DVDs and games then people who dont download. They also tend to visit more concerts and buy more merchandise.

Open Rights Group calls for sound copyright

Copyright in sound recordings currently lasts for 50 years. An independent review (the Gowers review) commissioned and endorsed by the UK government says it should remain at 50 years. Yet the recording industry continues to push for this term be extended. Such a term extension would be harmful to most musicians, their fans and to European musical culture.

The Open Rights Group has a rather good video explaining the issues. Take five minutes to watch it and then write to your MEP.

Via Quaequam Blog!

The Producers speak out on piracy

A group of UK film and TV producers, directors and writers have written to the Times to demand that Something Must Be Done about online file sharing. Whats more, they want to ensure that internet service providers become part of their solution.

Inevitably enough, however, they are not talking about looking for a business model that reflects the fact that people will seek to share content, preferring instead to limit themselves to an assertion and a demand.

Internet service providers have the ability to change the behaviour of those customers who illegally distribute content online. They have the power to make significant change and to prevent their infrastructure from being used on a wholesale scale for illegal activity. If they are not prepared to act responsibly, they should be compelled to do so.

First the assertion: Internet service providers have the ability to change the behaviour of those customers who illegally distribute content online. Do they? How? To me, this sounds dangerously like the producers believe that it is both possible and desirable for your ISP to monitor and analyse every packet of data that flows through your internet connection. In truth, it is both unfeasable and undesirable.

But it gets worse: If they are not prepared to act responsibly, they should be compelled to do so. When railing against piracy, ISPs are an easy target to go for - they are visible and there is only a limited number of them - but this doesnt make them an appropriate target. And demanding that ISPs should somehow be obliged to become the unaccountable watchdogs of our online behaviour is both unreasonable and dangerous, as the Internet Watch Foundation has so recently demonstrated.

Lloyd Kaufman Defines Media Consolidation

Lloyd Kaufman, Chairman of the IFTA, delivers a speech on media consolidation and the dangers it poses to independent art.

Ironically, I found this YouTube video by way of Kaufmans MySpace blog.

Cory Doctorow on Copyfighting

Cory Doctorow has an article in Locus Magazine (via) discussing why he thinks the current copyright model is broken:

When you hear a song you love, you play it for the people in your tribe. When you read a book you love, you shove it into the hands of your friends to encourage them to read it too. When you see a great show, you get your friends to watch it too — or you seek out the people whove already watched it and strike up a conversation with them.

So the natural inclination of anyone who is struck by a piece of creative work is to share it. And since sharing on the Internet is the same as copying, this puts you square in copyrights crosshairs. Everyone copies. Dan Glickman, the ex-Congressman who now heads up the Motion Picture Association of America (as pure a copyright maximalist as you could hope to meet) admitted to copying Kirby Dicks documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (a scorching critique of the MPAAs rating system) but excused it because the copy was in [his] vault. To pretend that you do not copy is to adopt the twisted hypocrisy of the Victorians who swore that they never, ever masturbated. Everyone knows that they themselves are lying, and a large number of us know that everyone else is lying too.

Go read the rest

French Senate votes to support obsolete business model

The French Senate has voted in favour of disconnecting internet users who persist in illegally downloading music or films, setting the stage for a fight between France and Brussels as the European Parliament approved by a large majority an amendment outlawing exactly this sort of measure in September.

Under Frances proposed three-strikes or graduated response law, Internet users accused of stealing content online for the first time would receive a cautioning email. A second time results in a warning letter delivered by post, and a third claim requires the users Internet service provider (ISP) to cut access for a year.

In passing the bill, the senators rejected an amendment proposed by senator Bruno Retailleau of the right-wing MPF party replacing internet cut-off with a fine. Retailleau accused the bill of being too severe and discriminatory as internet access is often bundled with television and fixed-line telephone services making it impossible to just cut off the internet.

Ive posted on this before, but it bears repeating that people will share files and, rather than trying to identify who is sending what to whom, it would be a lot simpler – and a lot fairer – if the media industry recognised this fact and sought to build their business models around it.

Its also been noted in the past that ISPs have expressed concerns and – in some cases – taken action to try and control the rising bandwidth demands imposed by the sort of rich media websites that are currently proliferating.

One way of addressing both of these issues would be for ISPs to offer two – or more – tiers of internet access; a cheap, limited bandwidth option and a more expensive, very high or unlimited bandwidth option. The ISPs would then need to negotiate with collection agencies, such as the Performing Rights Society, so that a percentage of the revenue is handed over to the national collection agency to be distributed to copyright holders in much the same way that they handle licensing fees from TV and radio.

The advantage of this approach is that it requires no policing. If you stay within your bandwidth quote, no additional cost will accrue. If, however, you want to download a bunch of films, you can do so safe in the knowledge that part of what you paid to your ISP will end up in the pockets of the legal owners of those films.