Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make


2:10 pm - August 30th 2012

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contribution by Paul Bernal

I left the Labour Party in 1999, partly because I was leaving the country and partly because I was already becoming disillusioned as to the direction that Labour was taking – a stance that the invasion of Iraq only confirmed.

One of the reasons I have not been able to bring myself to join has been the incoherence and oppressiveness of Labour’s digital policies, which are not those of a progressive, positive and modern party, of one that represents the ordinary people, and in particular the young people, of Britain today.

I’ve written in the past about why governments always get digital policy wrong – but here is my first attempt at putting together a skeleton of a progressive policy for digital government.

The starting point for such a policy would be a series of nine commitments.

A commitment to the right to access to the net – and to supporting human rights online as well as in the real world. This is the easiest part of the policy, and one where Labour, at least theoretically, has not been bad. Gordon Brown spoke of such a right. However, supporting such a right has implications, implications which the Labour Party seems to have neither understood nor follows. The most important such implication is that it should not be possible to arbitrarily prevent people accessing the net – and that the barrier for removal of that right should be very high. Any policy which relies on the idea of blocking access should be vigorously resisted – the Digital Economy Act is the most obvious example. Cutting people’s access on what is essentially suspicion is wholly inconsistent with a commitment to the right to access the internet.

A commitment against internet surveillance – internet surveillance is very much in the news right now, with the Coalition pushing the Communications Data Bill, accurately labelled the ‘snoopers’ charter’, about which I have written a number of times.Labour should very much oppose this kind of surveillance, but doesn’t. Indeed, rather the opposite – the current bill is in many ways a successor to Labour’s ‘Interception Modernisation Programme’. Surveillance of this kind goes very much against what should be Labour values: it can be and has been used to monitor those organising protests and similar, going directly against the kinds of civil rights that should be central to the programme of any progressive, left wing party: the rights to assembly and association. Labour should not only say, right now, that it opposes the Snoopers Charter, but that it would not seek to bring in other similar regulation. Indeed, it should go further, and suggest that it would work within the European Union to repeal the Data Retention Directive (which was pushed through by Tony Blair) and to reform RIPA – restricting the powers that it grants rather than increasing them.

A commitment to privacy and data protection – rather than just paying lip service to them. I have written many times before about the problems with the Information Commissioner’s Office. First of all it needs focus: it (or any replacement body) should be primarily in charge of protecting privacy. Secondly, it needs more real teeth – but also more willingness to use them and against more appropriate targets. There has been far too little enforcement on corporate bodies, and too much on public authorities. If companies are to treat individuals’ private information better, they need the incentive to do so – at the moment even if they are detected, the enforcement tends to be feeble: a slap on the wrist at best. The current law punishes each group inappropriately: public authorities with big fines, which ultimately punish the public, corporates barely at all. Financial penalties would provide an incentive for businesses, while more direct personal punishments for those in charge of public authorities would work better as an incentive for them, as well as not punishing the public!

A commitment to oppose the excessive enforcement of copyright – and instead to encourage the content industry to work for more positive ways forward. This would include the repeal of the Digital Economy Act, one of the worst pieces of legislation in the digital field, and one about which the Labour Party should be thoroughly ashamed. Labour needs to think more radically and positively – and understand that the old ways don’t work, and merely manage to alienate (and even criminalise) a generation of young people. Labour has a real opportunity to do something very important here – and to understand the tide that is sweeping across the world, at least in the minds of the people. In the US, SOPA and PIPA have been roundly beaten. ACTA suffered a humiliating defeat in the European Parliament and is probably effectively dead. In France, the new government is looking to abolish HADOPI – the body that enforces their equivalent of the Digital Economy Act. A truly progressive, radical party would not resist this movement – it would seek to lead it. Let the creative minds of the creative industries be put to finding a creative, constructive and positive way forward. Carrots rather than just big sticks.

A commitment to free speech on the internet. This has a number of strands. First of all, to develop positive and modern rules governing defamation on the internet. Reform of defamation is a big programme – and I am not convinced that the current reform package does what it really should, focussing too much on reforming what happens in the ‘old media’ (where I suspect there is less wrong than some might suggest) without dealing properly with the ‘new media’ (which has been dealt with fairly crudely in the current reforms). There needs to be clarity about protection for intermediaries, for example.

A commitment against censorship – this is the second part of the free speech strand. In the current climate, there are regular calls to deal with such things as pornography and ‘trolling’ on the internet – but most of what is actually suggested amounts to little more than censorship. We need to be very careful about this indeed – the risks of censorship are highly significant. Rather than strengthening our powers to censor and control,via web-blocking and so forth, we need to make them more transparent and accountable. A key starting point would be the reform of the Internet Watch Foundation, which plays a key role in dealing with child abuse images and related websites, but falls down badly in terms of transparency and accountability. It needs much more transparency about how it works – a proper appeals procedure, better governance structures and so forth. The Labour Party must not be seduced by the populism of anti-pornography campaigners into believing in web-blocking as a simple, positive tool. There are huge downsides to that kind of approach, downsides that often greatly outweigh the benefits.

A radical new approach to social media – the third strand of the free speech agenda. We need to rethink the laws and their enforcement that have led to tragic absurdities like the Twitter Joke Trial, and the imprisonment of people for Facebook posts about rioting. The use of social media is now a fundamental part of many people’s lives – pretty much all young people’s lives – and at present it often looks as though politicians and the courts have barely a clue how it works. Labour should be taking the lead on this – and it isn’t. The touch needs to be lighter, more intelligent and more sensitive – and led by people who understand and use social media. There are plenty of them about – why aren’t they listened to?

A commitment to transparency – including a full commitment to eGovernment, continuing the good aspects of what the current government is doing in relation to Open Data. Transparency, however, should mean much more – starting with full and unequivocal support for Freedom of Information. There has been too much said over recent months to denigrate the idea of freedom of information, and to suggest that it has ‘gone too far’. The opposite is much more likely to be the case: and a new approach needs to be formulated. If it takes too much time, money and effort to comply with FOI requests, that indicates that the information hasn’t been properly organised or classified, not that the requests should be curbed. The positive, progressive approach would be to start to build systems that make it easier to provide the information, not complain about the requests.

A commitment to talk to the experts – and a willingness to really engage with and listen to them. We have some of the best – from people like Tim Berner-Lee to Professor Ross Anderson at the Cambridge University Computer Lab, Andrew Murray at the LSE, the Oxford Internet Institute and various other university departments, civil society groups and so forth – and yet the government consistently fails to listen to what they say, and prefers instead to listen to industry lobby groups and Whitehall insiders. That is foolish, short-sighted and inappropriate – as well as being supremely ineffective. It is one of the reasons that policies formulated are not just misguided in their aims but also generally fail to achieve those aims. There is real expertise out there – it should be used!

A forward-looking, radical and positive digital policy would mark the Labour Party out as no longer being in the hands of the lobbyists, but instead being willing to fight for the rights of real, ordinary people.

We need debate on this – and not just for the Labour Party. Currently, though my history has been with the Labour Party, I find myself without anyone that I think can represent me. If any party were to take on an agenda for the digital world that would make more sense, I would be ready to listen.


This post was first published here, where there is a longer version.
Paul Bernal is a lecturer in IT, IP and Media Law at UEA

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Reader comments


Paul, have a look at these:

http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec#IntProp
http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/cms#CMS206

The Green Party / European Free Alliance have always been at the forefront of campaigns on these issues in the European Parliament, for example the campaign to stop ACTA:

http://europeangreens.eu/news/hello-democracy-goodbye-acta

When I spent some time in the European Parliament lobbying against software patents, Labour’s Arlene McCarthy was among the usual crowd of centre ground politicians, all captured by corporate lobbyists, leading the charge against the very principles you describe. An unlikely cross-European band of Greens, socialists, communists, UKIPpers, and eventually (thanks to pressure from their youth wings) some liberal parties fought the good fight. Labour’s position then, as with most digital matters, is the ugly confluence of their authoritarian streak with their cosyness to big business and their lack of understanding of the needs of SMEs.

OMG

If Labour came up with commitments to all of this I would vote for them!!!!!

However I won’t hold my breath- it doesn’t really seem to fit well with the party that brought in RIPA and lots more authoritarian legislation.

I think the writer knows this.

3. monchberter

You missed, a commitment to a plurality of options when it comes to information and advice, particularly for digital refuseniks and older people, most of whom aren’t online or care to be.

A digital policy that forgets that different people have different needs is by definition exclusionary.

Many public libraries have PCs online for local residents to use and many local education authorities run courses in computer use from the basic to advanced. PCs can be bought for the price of a TV set. What hampers wider and more extensive use of computers is seldom lack of resources but adult difficulties with literacy and numeracy.

“Up to 12 million working UK adults have the literacy skills expected of a primary school child, the Public Accounts Committee says. . . The report says there are up 12 million people holding down jobs with literacy skills and up to 16 million with numeracy skills at the level expected of children leaving primary school.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4642396.stm

5. Martin (@Spitefuel)

Firstly this is very unlikely since until Labour has been purged of the old Blairite crowd (like Mandelson who was deeply in the pockets of the copyright addicts).

Secondly all of these noble intentions are held back by one simple fact. The current British internet infrastructure cannot cope. One simple means to restart the economy and also benefit everyone would be to charge every company with over 100 employee’s a simple one off network tax (double it for banks since they benefit the most and owe us the most) which will pay for laying down an brand new fibre optic network. The network can be run as a non-profit independent company after the project is completed. Firstly this would boost British business but the work of laying cables and linking the network together would employ a massive amount of people.

A commitment to tripling the capacity of our telecommunications network in less than 5 years would be a great precursor to all of these.

I certainly wouldn’t vote Labour or Tory until they get their head around the fact that we are now in a different century, technology matters and many aspects of law have either expired their sell by date or were badly thought out recent knee jerks in the first place.

To make matters worse, our ridiculous antiquated first past the post voting system prevents the ‘main’ parties having to compete with more sophisticated understandings.

If Labour became the kind of party who would bring in this kind of legislation then I’d be very tempted to vote for them.

Sadly, it seems awfully unlikely.

There is probably a seperate post here all by itself regarding the failure of public services to use new technology to make services better. But it stems from the same problems you’ve identified within the political parties and civil service.

Just one example. At the moment people who are ill regularly have to see consultants for check ups on their condition, which can involve travelling to see the consultant for people in rural areas. In practice what still happens some of the time is the person – because they can’t drive – gets in a community ambulance at 6am for the 2 hour drive to the specialist centre, which then picks up other patients on route. The patient sees the consultant at 9am (because hospitals can’t yet arrange appointments at times that reflect the convenience of patients) for 10 mins during which the consultant asks questions that could have been asked over a phone, and looks at test results for procudures that could have been done by a nurse in a person’s home who could have sent the results online to the consultant. The patient then spends 8 hours in a hospital waiting room whilst all the other patients wait for similar appointments ready for the ambulance to start the journey home.

If the civil service and politicians still haven’t figured out how stupid and unnecessary the above is then they won’t get the more complex digital economy stuff right.

9. Shatterface

You’ve got a better chance of persuading Labour to guarantee everyone jet packs and sex robots.

This sounds pretty good.

Since the general election, the impression I’ve had of Labour is of a party that’s squirmed a bit, and repositioned itself in its seat as if to try to get a bit more comfortable, but nothing much more than that.

Labour are no closer to getting my vote, even with the Lib Dems losing it.

11. Charlieman

@7. Planeshift: “At the moment people who are ill regularly have to see consultants for check ups on their condition, which can involve travelling to see the consultant for people in rural areas.”

The last time that I saw a consultant he spent about one minute talking to me and nine minutes inserting things in my bottom. I understand that there is an awful lot of that thing on the internet so he must have had good reason to pick me.

I made a crack about the conversation with my consultant, but often the face to face bit is most important. It is not always possible to perceive everything over the phone or a video link. There are lots of wonderful stories about medics bumping into people and spotting something about a mole or eye that made them raise a question.

Yes, technology is wonderful, and appropriate use of tech plus nurses can replace many hospital visits. But don’t assume that a 10 minute appointment to review test results is simply to look at test results; it’s ten minutes to look at a patient.

@4

Where to start:

– why does everything start with ‘more tax’ ?
– Banks have their own private leased lines from the various Telcos
– BT & Virginmedia are already laying their (privately funded) fibre
– I have a 60mb line from Virginmedia – most servers can’t keep up

13. Charlieman

@OP, Paul Bernal: “A commitment to oppose the excessive enforcement of copyright – and instead to encourage the content industry to work for more positive ways forward.”

What does this mean in policy terms?

Why use the word “excessive” when “inappropriate” describes most misuses? And why that ugly expression “content industry” when law talks about publishers and rights holders?

To me, the OP implies that the only concern is to protect citizens from over zealous rights holders. But IP law has a role to protect the works of authors, artists, photographers, inventors, industrial designers et al. Don’t forget the little people who need protection for their ideas too.

14. Charlieman

@4. Martin (@Spitefuel): “Secondly all of these noble intentions are held back by one simple fact. The current British internet infrastructure cannot cope.”

A historical note: when BT was privatised, one of the conditions placed upon the company was that it was not to become a cable TV provider. There were a couple of relaxations on this in order to conduct experiments in the 1990s, but BT who owned the best infrastructure at that time were barred from developing it.

Martin argues that we need optical cable everywhere. This was also an argument presented ten years ago before technologists worked out how to get more out of copper. At the same time technologists have worked out better ways to compress or cache video broadcasts. For a new build, it makes sense to provide optical from door to junction box but I am not convinced of the optical everywhere argument.

Folk who find literacy and numeracy challenging will have difficulty in using computers online however great the bandwidth unless it’s for simple stuff like downloading movies and playing computer games.

While these proposals are sensible, it’s unlikely Labour will implement them any time soon: the current shadow Culture Secretary, Harriet Harman, thinks the Digital Economy Act doesn’t go far enough and has accused the Tories of dragging their heels on implementing it.

In general, there is a problem with politicians not getting the internet for reasons which won’t go away quickly.

Fortunately we don’t need to wait for Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems to get it; the Pirate Party already exists and was set up to support these policies and combat political cluelessness regarding the digital world.

@12 Charlieman:

To me, the OP implies that the only concern is to protect citizens from over zealous rights holders.

The term “rights holders” is propaganda as it implies only certain people hold rights. I want to see a society where all British Citizens hold rights, those rights including the right to freedom of speech including the right to use digital electronics to facilitate that freedom.

But IP law has a role to protect the works of authors, artists, photographers, inventors, industrial designers et al. Don’t forget the little people who need protection for their ideas too.

If IP law was about protecting the little people, there would be far less opposition to it.

In practise, IP law allows big corporations to trample over everyone else. For example consider Apple’s recent $1.3bn patent lawsuit victory over Samsung: the result of this is that millions, perhaps billions, of little people will have ot pay more for less when they buy a tablet or smartphone. And all because a shitty company couldn’t compete in the marketplace.

@5 John: To make matters worse, our ridiculous antiquated first past the post voting system prevents the ‘main’ parties having to compete with more sophisticated understandings.

That’s true, but FPTP is only used for Westminster and for local government in England ans Wales. Everything else uses more sensible systems, most of which are PR.

@6 Andrew Ducker: If Labour became the kind of party who would bring in this kind of legislation then I’d be very tempted to vote for them.

Me too. One of the reasons the Pirate Party was set up is that none of the big parties can be relied on to have sensible internet policies.

@2 monchbereter:

You missed, a commitment to a plurality of options when it comes to information and advice, particularly for digital refuseniks and older people, most of whom aren’t online or care to be.

A digital policy that forgets that different people have different needs is by definition exclusionary.

If someone is not online because they can’t afford it, they lack confidence/understanding of the technology, or broadband isn’t available in their area, they can and should be helped.

But if they are offline because they are not interested, they have excluded themselves.

Authoritarianism is so fundamentally a part of Labour party policy, I don’t think this has any chance. If only it had.

@Paul Bernal

Good post and yes they do need to listen to more of the people involved in tech.

The internet is disruptive and old business models are no longer working and the future belongs to those who innovate realise the potential of the web and come up with great new ways of doing business.

It is easy to see why politicians and those that back them would want to have some control over the web, but they just have to get used to the idea that it is a world wide web.

Some of the big web and tech players also seem to be buying up or attempting to sue out of existence new players and stifle innovations from which we all would benefit.(eg 17 year patent pinch to zoom)
If they just spent the money wasted on lawyers on innovation.

There are of course real concerns about terrorism and pornography etc. investigations into these should be intelligence led and have judicial oversight.
Random collection of data from emails, social networks, search history and browser history on a big fishing expedition i think would cause more wild goose chases and more petty prosecutions, while “the bad guys” slip right through.

23. Waterloo Sunset

@ 12

And why that ugly expression “content industry” when law talks about publishers and rights holders?

Because it’s not in any way inaccurate. Even someone like Robert Devine, who I suspect is relatively close to your position, uses the term “culture business”.

This isn’t simply a legal issue, it’s also a political, social and even moral one. So there’s no need to stick solely to legalistic terminology when discussing it. The law doesn’t currently differentiate between a copyright owned by a record label and a copyright owned directly by a content creator, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing.

But IP law has a role to protect the works of authors, artists, photographers, inventors, industrial designers et al. Don’t forget the little people who need protection for their ideas too.

Yep, absolutely. Information may want to be free, but until food, housing and electricity are, it can’t be.

But current IP law is nowhere near as good at protecting the little people (who actually create the damn things in the first place) as it is the big corporations. To give you just two examples of IP law directly fucking over artists:

The steampunk band, “The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing” were given three working days by EMI to change their debut album title from “Now That’s What I Call Steampunk Volume One” or face full legal action. That’s farcical. It’s obviously not “passing off” and is deliberate pastiche. Of course, the genuine little guys in this case couldn’t afford to take on EMI so had to comply.

The second example is largely unknown, because it comes from the tiny niche market that is tabletop roleplaying games. There’s a superheroes roleplaying game called “Golden Heroes” that was published back by Games Workshop back in 1984. Recently, one of the two authors, Simon Burley, tried to release a completely rewritten and updated version called “Squadron UK”. And was hit by a cease and a desist from Games Workshop, so he had to take it off sale. Despite the fact that Games Workshop have shown absolutely no interest in the IP since it was published, have no apparent plans to release it and aren’t even in the RPG market any more.

That’s the reality of how IP law works currently. If you want to protect the little people, you should be fighting alongside those of us calling for a root and branch reform of the whole issue. If we leave it to the content industry, we’ll get ‘solutions’ like Spotify. Where the major labels directly colluded with Spotify in fucking over the indie labels and self-released artists.

I do kinda agree with you that the original piece doesn’t focus enough on creators though (although I recognise it’s a skeleton piece, so I’d hope it would be added). Here’s some of what I’d like to see that I think would be directly in the interest of actual creators:

1. All transfer of copyright should be by license only, with assignment being outlawed entirely.

2. If a content company goes bankrupt, the copyright on any creations it owns should go back to the original creator automatically, for free.

3. A use it or lose it clause to be mandatory in all contracts. It’s simply not reasonable that there are currently master recordings not on sale, being held in record company vaults. It leaves artists in a state of legal limbo with no real recourse.

4. A full ‘fair use’ law, far more extensive than the US one. Any genuinely transformative use of a piece should be legal. I’m aware that’s by far the most controversial of these four proposals from a creator’s perspective, but I think that opening up the use of pieces in genuinely creative pieces like this would be massively culturally and artistically beneficial. I’m not necessarily against some kind of financial compensation for the original artist on this, but it needs to be as a percentage of any royalties made, not a flat rate. Also, it needs to be automatic, without permission being obligatory. (Obviously, that would make non-commercial use entirely legal without any money exchanging hands).

I do think that all of those proposals would go a great deal of the way to rebalancing the relationship between the content corporations and artists. Two that I’d like to see that aren’t about rights of creators:

1. A massive restriction on DLC. The computer games industry is one of the most prominent examples of how anti-consumer this is getting. If I finish a PC game, I damn well should be able to sell it on secondhand, without restriction. And I certainly shouldn’t have to be always online to play a game, especially when there is no legal obligation for the games company to keep a server operational for as long as I wish to play.

2. A scaling back of copyright terms. At the moment, the copyright on a Jeffrey Archer novel lasts 50 years longer than the patent on an AIDS drug. I’d be intrigued to see someone try and defend that in terms of being socially beneficial. Ideally, I think 5-10 years is the most reasonable (the primary purpose of copyright should be to incentivise the creation of art), but it certainly shouldn’t be longer than 20.

24. Waterloo Sunset

@ 22 littleox

A commitment to talk to the experts – and a willingness to really engage with and listen to them.

Yes, but let’s be a bit cautious. One of the issues with how this debate is framed is that the tech companies are lobbying as heavily for their business interests as the traditional content industry. Google and orphan works are a really good example of that. As, in fact, is filesharing. It’s a massively profitable industry now. Yet that side of things often gets overlooked and hence the debate goes very one-sided. A significant part of the tech industry isn’t apolitical either, it goes for a kind of ‘hard’ US libertarianism. And it’s interesting how many people who wouldn’t normally be sympathetic to that politically develop a blind spot here. I also think there’s a serious conflict of issue interest with the amount of money Google pump into the EFF. The tech industry is not made up entirely of pony-tailed utopians, if it ever was.

@13 Charlieman

Quite. The OP waffles in its discussion of content rights. This is a very tricky area and will not go away.

@23 Waterloo Sunset

Interesting ideas!

For info: here’s Shadow media minister Helen Goodman in yesterday’s Guardian:

Jonathan Myerson (Licence to bully, 28 August) is absolutely right: online anonymity is debasing true debate.

Currently arguments about internet governance swing from one extreme – John Kampfner’s demand last week for no restrictions at all – to another – Theresa May’s desire to track all email traffic. We need a more balanced approach, matching rights to responsibilities. Tackling anonymity is key.

When I call for better child protection on the net the industry responds by saying it’s like traffic – parents must teach their children safety. But to go on the road you need a driving licence, and it’s an offence not to give your true name and address. The internet needs to grow up – it cannot remain like the forest in the 13th century at the time of Robin Hood, totally outside the law. Myerson’s argument is timely and helpful.

Helen Goodman MP
Shadow minister for media

So, not only is she arguing for some kind of ‘information superhighway licence’, but Sherwood Forest was a place where nasty outlaws could bully the poor ickle Sherriff of Nottingham? Who knew? (#analogyfail)

“At the moment, the copyright on a Jeffrey Archer novel lasts 50 years longer than the patent on an AIDS drug. I’d be intrigued to see someone try and defend that in terms of being socially beneficial.”

Yes, copyright on drugs to treat illnesses is a necessary evil , but it is still an evil that keeps the cost of life saving drugs prohibatively expensive for poor countries. So we need the length of copyright on drugs to be sufficiently long enough to attract investment into new research that will keep producing new and better drugs, but we don’t want it to be any longer than necessary as we need the cost of treating disease to go down over the long run with generic drugs. Imagine if the original creators of paracetemol still had the rights to sell it…..

On the other hand keeping the cost of Jeffrey Archer novels artificially high is extremely socially beneficial – it means fewer people read them, and authors are deterred from ripping him off.

” If we leave it to the content industry, we’ll get ‘solutions’ like Spotify. Where the major labels directly colluded with Spotify in fucking over the indie labels and self-released artists.”

I’m interested in this – what happened here?

@charlieman – that is an example of a useful face to face consultation (or face to arse). There are still numerous examples of unnecessary traveling within the NHS that wouldn’t be necessary if technology was used far more. But at the moment its left to the enthusiasts to develop, and health service managers largely don’t take notice.

28. Waterloo Sunset

@ 27

I’m interested in this – what happened here?

The major labels have been shareholders in Spotify since 2008, though they tried to keep that secret at first. They own 18% of the shares, the indie conglomerate Merlin owns 1%. See here- http://techcrunch.com/2009/08/07/this-is-quite-possibly-the-spotify-cap-table/

One of the things that has happened because of that is that the major labels are on a much better deal then anyone else. Indie labels that aren’t part of Merlin get no advance and no minimum per stream. All they get is a 50% pro-rata payment on advertising. So far, that amount has largely been negligible.

There have also been some serious questions raised about whether artists on major labels have been getting a fair percentage of the revenue raised. (This is obviously a new media version of a very old dispute about royalty rates in contracts).

All of this can be hard to look at in detail, because the major record labels and Spotify have covered almost everything in NDA agreements. So most artists don’t even know precisely how much money their music is making for Spotify and the label.

Getting rid of ATVOD would be a good start.

30. Charlieman

@27. Planeshift: “There are still numerous examples of unnecessary traveling within the NHS that wouldn’t be necessary if technology was used far more. But at the moment its left to the enthusiasts to develop, and health service managers largely don’t take notice.”

Agreed. I think there’s more than enough material for an OP about IT and health (*without* any discussion of finance levels). IT providers to the Health Service are not the nimble thinkers and operators who will provide necessary change.

31. Charlieman

@17. Phil Hunt: “In practise, IP law allows big corporations to trample over everyone else. For example consider Apple’s recent $1.3bn patent lawsuit victory over Samsung: the result of this is that millions, perhaps billions, of little people will have ot pay more for less when they buy a tablet or smartphone. And all because a shitty company couldn’t compete in the marketplace.”

Sorry, Phil, but that is a thoroughly rubbish example. Apple and Samsung are both huge organisations. Apple demonstrated that Samsung (perhaps Google/Android) overstepped the mark by copying Apple products — not just patents but visual design features. Non-Apple manufacturers can stay in the marketplace by not copying Apple, which is what Microsoft does in the mobile phone arena. Microsoft makes phones that don’t try to mimic iPhones.

There is a useful argument about ActiveSync technology (a Microsoft solution for talking to MS Exchange servers) which is licensed by Apple and many Android phone producers. If you want to sell a phone that talks natively to an MS Exchange server, you have to pay a licence fee to Microsoft. ActiveSync — going on 15 years old — is not something that can be trivially replicated in a clean room and is literally a licence to make money. Microsoft have to be very careful how they exploit it.

32. Charlieman

@23. Waterloo Sunset: “Because it’s not in any way inaccurate. Even someone like Robert Devine, who I suspect is relatively close to your position, uses the term “culture business”.

This isn’t simply a legal issue, it’s also a political, social and even moral one. So there’s no need to stick solely to legalistic terminology when discussing it.”

Fair comment. I was feeling grumpy that the OP doesn’t talk about people — artists, writers, designers, promoters, publishers — but about a lumpen “content industry”. I think it is fair to use a collective term but only after you have established that people have different interests.

Thanks for the interesting thoughts that followed.

You’re probably right about point 4 being the most controversial. It is one that predates digital content, of course. Cristina’s version of _Is that all there is?_ was blocked by Leiber and Stoller thirty odd years ago — and she would have paid full royalties. In theatre, rights holders manage the number of simultaneous productions of a script; an amateur company may not be allowed to put on a play if professionals are playing it 50 miles away. It’s all tricky stuff.

On point 1: “All transfer of copyright should be by license only, with assignment being outlawed entirely.” I follow the argument, but what about commissioned material?

33. Waterloo Sunset

@32 Charlieman

Fair comment. I was feeling grumpy that the OP doesn’t talk about people — artists, writers, designers, promoters, publishers — but about a lumpen “content industry”.

That’s reasonable and I’d agree that the OP is quite one-sided and does largely ignore creators. I’m prepared to be relatively charitable there, as Paul makes clear that this is the first draft of a working proposal. But unless that balance is redressed, the most it can do is pinpoint some of the issues that specifically affect consumers. It’s not a way forward.

That one-sidedness is why I’m a lot less impressed by the Pirate Party then a lot of people in this thread seem to be. While I probably agree with them on more than I disagree, I find them utterly dismissive of creators. While being totally credulous when it comes to the tech industry. Which is what leads to their members getting all gooey eyed over snake oil hucksters like Kim Dotcom.

I think it is fair to use a collective term but only after you have established that people have different interests.

I think you hit on a vital point here. Part of the issue is that, currently, the voices on this are actually being drawn from a very small group. In the music industry, you have the major labels on one side and the big tech corporations on the other, with the occasional brickbat from the “everything should be free” crowd. The smaller indie labels, let alone musicians are getting drowned out. The launch of the Featured Artists Coalition (who are influential on my own thinking on this) was a real step forward but there’s a long way to go.

On point 1: “All transfer of copyright should be by license only, with assignment being outlawed entirely.” I follow the argument, but what about commissioned material?

It’s still possible for commissioned material to be produced under license to the commissioner. (In fact, that’s the default unless it’s expressly agreed otherwise). I do think that some stick would be needed here though, hence the call for the outlawing of assignment. Without that, most publishers are going to carry on being highly reluctant to accept licensing. I recognise it’s not actually in their interest to support this one.

@33 Watrereloo sunset:

That one-sidedness is why I’m a lot less impressed by the Pirate Party then a lot of people in this thread seem to be. While I probably agree with them on more than I disagree, I find them utterly dismissive of creators.

I think that’s somewhat unfair. I was one of the people who founded Pirate Party UK, and I’m certainly aware of the desirablility of rewarding creators, something which I’ve written about this previously on this blog.

The basivc issue is that digital content is both non-rivalrous and non-excludable, whivch makes it a good candidate for some sort of state funding.

Which is what leads to their members getting all gooey eyed over snake oil hucksters like Kim Dotcom.

I think that’s mostly because he’s the enemy of our enemy. Yes, Kim Dotcom has done some dodgy things in the past, but he’s far less evil than the RIAA and MPAA, who want to destroy everyone’s civil rights and hold back progress in order to shore up their obsolete business model.

Sorry to be so slow to reply to this – I’ve been away – and thanks for all the comments. As some people have noted, this is very much a first draft, and intended to start a discussion rather than finish it. It’s also a relatively short document – even the one on my own blog isn’t significantly bigger. That does mean, of course, that I haven’t been able to devote a huge amount of detail to any of the points, each of which deserves more than a blog post on its own, to say the least.

One of the biggest issues raised in the comments is about the issue of copyright enforcement – and I accept all the criticisms that what I’ve written seems one-sided. I don’t mean it to be – but my observation is that in internet terms, the enforcement is equally one sided, but in the opposite direction. I did, however, specifically put in the term ‘excessive’ – copyright, in my opinion, can be crucial as a protection for authors, musicians and other creators, so does need protection, but such protection needs to be proportionate and appropriate, and to a great extent it isn’t, at least over the internet. Moreover, the way it is performed isn’t even effective! If it was, then it would be more justifiable. We need to rethink the whole process, giving full regard to the rights of the creators – but also the effect of the enforcement systems.

I agree wholeheartedly that it’s an over-simplification to talk about a lumpen ‘content industry’ – but in the space afforded by a blog post like this, it’s hard to be appropriately detailed, and in the way that certain parts of the industry lobbied for ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and the DEAct, it behaved somewhat like a behemoth. Things might be improved if other parts of the industry disassociated themselves more actively from the more aggressive and disproportionate attempts at enforcement – I know that many do, and would hope that any future Labour policy supported this. Imagination is needed here – and a creative industry should be able to apply their imagination to help. As someone who writes myself, I would like to have my rights protected – but in a way that works for everyone.

As for whether it would be possible to convince an ‘old style’ Labour party to move in this direction – of course it’s hard to imagine, but isn’t it worth a try? The Tories have just appointed a minister who seems to have almost no knowledge or experience of the digital world – can’t Labour do better? Let us at least start the discussion…


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Orwell Upgraded

    'Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make' http://t.co/FyEEbls6 < excellent list by @paulbernaluk

  2. Aled Jones

    Love this framework for a progressive digital policy – integral that we begin to see more pro-internet politicians | http://t.co/dEcvBULU

  3. roslinda

    Love this framework for a progressive digital policy – integral that we begin to see more pro-internet politicians | http://t.co/dEcvBULU

  4. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make http://t.co/2NiGjvYx

  5. Declan Skews

    'Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make' http://t.co/FyEEbls6 < excellent list by @paulbernaluk

  6. Rhys Needham

    Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jCaLmhlp via @libcon

  7. Kim Evans

    'Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make' http://t.co/FyEEbls6 < excellent list by @paulbernaluk

  8. sunny hundal

    Think these nine points on digital policy by @paulbernaluk should be a manifesto for a Labour grouping http://t.co/FyEEbls6 – @Tom_Watson?

  9. No ID

    Think these nine points on digital policy by @paulbernaluk should be a manifesto for a Labour grouping http://t.co/FyEEbls6 – @Tom_Watson?

  10. Peter Kenyon

    Think these nine points on digital policy by @paulbernaluk should be a manifesto for a Labour grouping http://t.co/FyEEbls6 – @Tom_Watson?

  11. BevR

    Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/20Mu3lnO via @libcon

  12. Paul Bernal

    Did you see my post on LibCon about a progressive digital policy for Labour, @michaelmeacher? http://t.co/hN90gMDr

  13. Ben Griffiths

    I'm in the same place as the author, but he doesn't explain how these policies fit in with Labour ideals and mores. http://t.co/WSom3AJ3

  14. Robina

    Nine commitments to a progressive digital policy the Labour party should make http://t.co/gwAiRtYm via @libcon

  15. Paul Bernal

    My post on LibCon about a progressive digital policy for Labour – with interesting comments! http://t.co/hN90gMDr

  16. Paul Bernal

    With Labour Party conference looming, a quick reminder of my suggestions for a progressive digital policy! via @libcon http://t.co/hN90gMDr

  17. John Andrews

    With Labour Party conference looming, a quick reminder of my suggestions for a progressive digital policy! via @libcon http://t.co/hN90gMDr

  18. Russell Johnstone

    With Labour Party conference looming, a quick reminder of my suggestions for a progressive digital policy! via @libcon http://t.co/hN90gMDr

  19. Sunny Hundal

    @camdentheo Good to meet yesterday Theo! What's your best email? Also, see this as a possible blue-print http://t.co/NoOqcxU4





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