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Why Digital Britain could be bad for you


9:30 am - January 30th 2009

by Jim Killock    


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Digital Britain is one of those government initiatives that might provoke a degree of cynicism, since it comes at a point when many people are not expecting the authors to hold power for much longer.

Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have criticised it as being unambitious in its headline conclusions about broadband roll out.

But that’s not the only thing about this report that should be worrying you.

Buried in the middle of the report was a little more information about the government’s intentions for dealing with illicit file sharing, which Cabalamat mentioned (‘Broadband tax’) earlier.

The report outlines the problem: we all want artists and musicians to get paid for their work. File sharing is a potential threat to this, as long as no similar commercial service exists. But we know from the recording industry itself that 80% of file sharers surveyed say they would pay for a similar, rights-cleared service.

But in some cases it’s the rights holders themselves who are preventing these services from emerging.

Unfortunately, Digital Britain seems to limit its view to the perspectives of Internet service providers and record companies, balancing the wishes of ISPs to be seen as ‘mere conduits’ and the recording industry’s desire for a legal clampdown on individual alleged rights infringers.

We should be concerned that the voice of consumers and citizens is being marginalised in this stand-off. For instance, there is no suggestion that consumers and citizens should be represented on the report’s proposed copyright ‘Rights Agency’. Without the voices of consumer and civil liberties groups, such an agency could easily be dominated by industry concerns at the expense of our rights. Consumers would be very likely to get a bad deal as the recording industry tries to cling to existing business models.

Who would stand up for our rights to use copyrighted material for common sense, non-commercial activities like political comment, educating our children, or satire? People do these things every day, even though they are breaches of UK copyright law.

We should be concerned at the government’s proposals for technical solutions for rights enforcement – technical ‘solutions’ to social issues tend to be expensive and fail. One by one, digital music providers like iTunes and Amazon are moving away from DRM and trusting their customers rather more. This is an approach that doesn’t seem to figure highly in Digital Britain’s suggested actions.

We need to keep an eye on proposals for recording and reporting alleged rights infringers. The report envisages that the courts will continue to be involved before any action is taken by copyright holders, but we need to see the detail of how this would work.

There is definite potential for further erosion of privacy online. Collecting data on alleged illicit illicit uploaders could lead to technologies or legal processes that harm our privacy.

For instance, we have already seen unethical practices from some legal agencies trying to enforce copyright terms on innocent individuals, accusing them of illicitly downloading hardcore German gay porn, for instance. We can’t be sure how many people might have simply paid up after receiving these threatening letters.

Processes like this need to be careful, considered and proportionate. Our rights as citizens need to be respected, and that principle is rather absent from the Digital Britain interim report.

More
BBC.co.uk – At a glance: Digital Britain

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About the author
This is a guest article. Jim Killock is Executive Director of Open Rights Group
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Technology

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Reader comments


A much more sensible attitude to copyright is needed. It has lost whatever justification it had as a means of promoting innovation and creativity, and has become a tool for the enforcement of monopoly privileges held, in general, by large corporations.

Well said Rob Knight.

Highly recommended book on the subject:

http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/against.htm

Copyrights and patents are a hindrance rather than a help.

Fact is that the music industry can’t bring itself to engage with the new digital order and is doing its best to thwart the future. They’re like modern day luddites.

I knew this report would be concealing some dreadful illiberal cack somewhere. Thanks for digging it out.

I presume the flash drive in the photo was found on a train, no?

It’s strange, there is a clear commitment for action enforcing the “dreadful illiberal cack”, yet regarding almost every other aspect of the report, it merely advises the commission of further reports. New Labour in a nutshell = A report to decide on another report.

Also, I watched most of the report in the House. Andy Burnham is an appalling speaker. He was roasted by his Tory shadow. Nice suit, though.

OP: “But we know from the recording industry itself that 80% of file sharers surveyed say they would pay for a similar, rights-cleared service.”

What people say and what people do are different things: it’s the reason why opinion polls about voting intention can be so utterly wrong. Market researchers use methodologies such as ideal point or conjoint in attempts to discover how consumers behave in real life,

Non-DRM protected music is available from Apple iTunes and Amazon today at modest prices. Let’s see how that works out at reducing IP theft of music.

Andy Burnham is an appalling speaker. He was roasted by his Tory shadow.

The one attached to his feet?

The thing is – does Burnham have any idea about technology, at all?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New blog post: Why Digital Britain could be bad for you http://tinyurl.com/ccqepb

  2. Jim Killock

    Why Digital Britain could be bad for you: post on Liberal Conspiracy http://is.gd/hNeD

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    New blog post: Why Digital Britain could be bad for you http://tinyurl.com/ccqepb

  4. Trouble in Digital Britain? | Sharpe's Opinion

    […] Trouble in Digital Britain? Liberal Conspiracy: Unfortunately, Digital Britain seems to limit its view to the perspectives of Internet service providers and record companies, balancing the wishes of ISPs to be seen as ‘mere conduits’ and the recording industry’s desire for a legal clampdown on individual alleged rights infringers. […]





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