Concerning the Digital economy Act

13 July 2011

I wrote to Theresa May a couple of months ago requesting that she support the Early Day Motion 1913. which calls for the government to reconsider the Digital Economy Act and its many proposed website blocking schemes, and for an examination of these matters by the appropriate Parliamentary Select Committee. Here is her responce.

Dear Mr Ward,

Thank you for contacting Theresa May about web blocking and EDM 1913. I am sure she will appreciate your concerns on this matter.

As you may be aware, Members of the Government do not, by convention, sign any Early Day Motions, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility. However, digital copyright infringement is a big problem in the UK and poses a very real threat to Britain’s hugely successful creative industries. Aside from ethical concerns, it undermines creative expression and has the potential to seriously affect British jobs and the country’s economic recovery.

Illegal file-sharing costs the industry £400m a year. To help combat this problem, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked Ofcom to review whether website blocking measures are workable. This review follows on from the public responses to the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘Your Freedom’ consultation which was designed to give people a chance to tell Government which laws and regulations they think should be amended or revoked.

I know Mr Hunt and his departmental colleagues are aware of the Special Rapporteur’s report. Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has confirmed that the Government agrees with the individual right to free and uncensored access to the internet and that states should only interfere in exceptional circumstances. The Government also agrees that the degree of interference should be proportionate to the risks involved. Mr Vaizey has stated that such measures should not be adopted lightly and that the Government will only do so if convinced that it is appropriate, proportionate, in accordance with international legal obligations and effective on the basis of evidence in the future.

The Government has responded to the Human Rights Council, welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s report and supporting the general thrust of his conclusions and recommendations. The Government will continue to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Government is now considering the Ofcom review before deciding on the best way forward.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Bennett

Case Worker
Office of the Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Tel: 0207 219 1013

And here is my response back to Mr Bennett

Ian Bennett

Where to start in your very misguided response.

Firstly the financial harm that you quote is a recording industry created value, that has been shown numerous times to be seriously flawed in the assumptions and methodology of calculation.

Secondly there is the huge harm to our cultural heritage in the current overly restrictive copyright. I would like you to consider the following points:

1. The lack of access to works that are no longer economically feasible to offer for sale, but are still in copyright. There a huge body of work that is not accessible to anyone, we are relying on these media companies to keep and preserve our cultural heritage in these recordings and films.

2, The reach of copyright in the UK means that almost every citizen will have technically infringed copyright several times per day. A law that is routinely broken in this manner can only be selectively enforced, and thus creating lack of credibility in the law.

3. The industry says that this is harming artists, but there is a huge swathe of artists who are bypassing the media industries and using alternative distribution models, and licenses such as creative commons, and doing very nicely from this. The media companies are more interested in capitalizing their back catalog than funding artists.

4. The enforcement of Copyright by the big media companies is more about preserving their existing business model. These companies have refused to adapt to the internet and have stifled every attempt by innovative companies in this area. The government is overly influenced by these companies and has been complicit in driving their agenda. The government should peruse and agenda of what is best for Britain even if that means that some companies that fail to adapt go out of business.

5. The government has failed to listen to groups advocating change, such as the Open Rights Group, and others.

6. Website blocking will not work, and will cause more harm to the internet and free speech that it will help enforce copyright.

7. Access to the internet is becoming a fundamental right, disconnection must not be used as a tool of compliance.

8. The use of a extra judicial form of collective punishment is not a proportionate response to the breaking of the contractual conditions of copyright. That this is even being considered is astounding!

I thank you for your response but you and the government have a long way to go to even understand the problem let alone be proposing solutions.

Kind Regards

Stuart Ward

Hargraves Report and Copyright reform

19 May 2011

Ok so we now have the report commissioned to look in to reform of “Intellectual Property” from Professor Ian Hargreaves.

I did a quick bit of searching through the document to see if this is any better than the previous report. The terms Creative Commons, GPL, and Copyleft are not mentioned at all. There is one reference to open-source in a footnote comment:

US Social Science Research Council, 2011, Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, p52-53: “Piracy, in effect, has allowed the major vendors to dominate low-and middle-income markets …… that they have little financial incentive to serve. …… piracy acts as a barrier to entry for competition, especially “free” open-source alternatives that have no upfront licensing costs. When these emerging markets begin to grow, as most did in the last decade, piracy ensures they do so along paths shaped by the powerful network and lock-in effects associated with the market leaders…….. As Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes obvserved: “In the long run the fundamental asset is the installed base of people who are using our products. What you hope to do over time is convert them to licensing the software” (Mondok 2007).

There does appear to be some sensible suggestions in the report, establishing the Digital Copyright Exchange, and using this to declare unlisted works as Orphan works.

4. Orphan works. The Government should legislate to enable licensing of orphan works. This should establish extended collective licensing for mass licensing of orphan works, and a clearance procedure for use of individual works. In both cases, a work should only be treated as an orphan if it cannot be found by search of the databases involved in the proposed Digital Copyright Exchange.

How can this be even considered as a comprehensive review if it fails to take any account of open-source, and creative commons licensing of works. This means that the review has only listened to the big media companies and powerful vested interests. They do list the Open Rights Group as a consulted organisation but they cant have listened to anything that they said.

When everything is Interlectual Property

6 July 2008

Ok so at the moment we are haveing fun a games trying to bend ancient Copyright rules to match the digital age. But what happens when 3D printers are really commonplace. Neil Stephenson touched on this in his book The Diamond Age. where the invention of molecular assemblers allowed anyone to make anything.

If this comes about then the value of things becomes almost zero, and all the value is in the design or in the instructions to your printer to make something.

What worries me is that if we don’t sort out the current legal mess with copyright on music and video we will still be fighting these battles when this sort of technology is invented. With the impact on society many time that it is now.

The BBC Listen Again to pod

26 June 2007

I have been downloading and listening to some of the BBC podcasts for some time now. I quite enjoy Digital Planet, and In Business. But through some frustration that the scope of this is so limited and knowing that mplayer played the full range of programs from the Radio Player website I did a little searching around and found this little script. I had a bit of a play around with this and added a few bits to it to make it a bit better, like getting the stream info and using these to set the ID tag for the audio file.

I was a little hesitant in releasing this to a wider world until I found that this product essentially did the same thing, (I bet there is some GPL software in there). And I also had a careful look at the BBC website’s terms of use which clearly state it is ok for personal non-commercial use.

So here is the current state of my script for converting streams from the BBC to mp3 or ogg. I use this to keep me amused on the daily commute. I do get annoyed with the number and the volume of announcements on the trains, I am already sat down so don’t need to know where first class is, or to take all my stuff with me, as to reading the safety card, has anyone ever read it?

I would welcome and suggestions for changes or improvements, to the script that is.