Right to Reply on MusicTank's Bill Sticklers Will Be Prosecuted Newsletter, 01 April '10

01 Apr 2010

I was surprised to read the MusicTank editorial by Sam Shemtob and John Power yesterday – urging the UK music industry to play nicely with the crocodile. The crocodile, in this case, being the anti-copyright ideologues. Surely a more sophisticated political analysis is needed.

After more than decade of watching the self-styled “Copyfighters”, much of it from the vantage point of Silicon Valley itself – I can confirm that if you extend a hand of conciliation, they’ll gladly take an arm or a leg. Talk of “balance” here is merely a smokescreen. Liberal Democrat and Conservative peers have recently experienced this at first hand: they thought their ORG-friendly Amendments would be perceived as consumer friendly. They were vilified for being in the pocket of big business.

The campaigners “consumer” branding here is also a sleight of hand. The goal of these activists is not to temper legislation by making it consumer friendly, it is to ensure the gradual destruction of copyright online. The strategy is to resist any regulation intruding upon the last, untamed frontier of the technology utopian. This is a dogmatic movement, where any compromise with rights holders risks expulsion from the tribe. That’s why the answer is always going to be ‘No’.

The arguments made against the Digital Economy Bill by the Open Rights Group – apparently accepted without question by MusicTank – are fundamentally cowardly and dishonest. The ORG knew last year, as did everyone else familiar with the negotiations, that the ‘ultimate’ sanction of disconnection would not be one of Ofcom’s technical countermeasures. Yet they decided to pretend it would be – this was too useful as to the group as a donation-raising tactic. Similarly, and it’s disappointing to see Sam and John echo this, amendments limited the liability of public Wi-Fi providers. I could go on.

But most dishonest of all is the claim that the measures haven’t been debated, and that a simple debate is all that is being asked. This is prompted by the sudden discovery by ORG campaigners of the Parliamentary mechanics, which means that a Commons debate would kill the entire Bill. Mission accomplished?

If we’re honest, there’s no great enthusiasm in the UK music industry for the Digital Economy Bill. I haven’t met anyone under the illusion that it brings immediate comfort to creators or music businesses. But nor is there much great antipathy to it, either. I attended ORG’s national demonstration, and in a city of 8 million, in one of the most sophisticated broadband markets in the world, it could barely muster 100 protesters. A decade ago, techies mustered more support to include Jedi religion in the 2001 census, than have registered discontent with the Bill.

The answer to this stalemate is not more laws, which pit the music industry into a permanent struggle against the real growth sector of Britain: its bureaucrats. Perpetual legal combat merely gives the anti-copyright lobby the oxygen a justification to stay alive. They need to feel persecuted more than the music business needs them. The answer, surely, is innovation in commerce. As Napoleon said of the English, we’re a nation of shopkeepers. We just seem to have forgotten how to run a shop.

(c) Andrew Orlowski, Editor-at-large The Register

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