The angry internet runs on Pseudo Masochism™

A mob that’s filled with self-righteous fury isn’t very discriminating.

In 2000 an angry crowd attacked a paediatrician after he was mistakenly named as a paedophile. Last year the Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy was abused by football fans who mistook him for match referee Chris Foy. And last month, a small Scottish farm certification agency, SOPA, received torrents of abuse from ‘digital rights’ campaigners who were upset about the United States’ proposed Stop Online Piracy Act.

Once it’s got its blood boiling, the mob needs new targets. Now it’s set its sights on ACTA, an international treaty to combat counterfeiting and piracy. Rallies will take place tomorrow. ACTA lost its digital copyright provisions long ago, but the mob hasn’t noticed. Many of the claims made for ACTA are completely false.

Even Ars Technica, which fomented the anti-SOPA campaign, has felt obliged to correct the anti-ACTA myths that are circulating on social media. The website recently lamented that the internet is “awash in inaccurate anti-SOPA”, busting the myths of the anti-ACTA crusaders.

ISPs are not obliged to monitor traffic, Ars points out. ACTA contains no web-blocking provisions or graduated response regime. It won’t block generic drugs.

In fact, as I pointed out at the time, ACTA is a non-binding agreement that doesn’t, in any case, apply to countries such as the UK, which have their own IP enforcement initiatives. The passage of the Digital Economy Act in 2010 made the entire discussion moot.

I recently asked the Dark Side what they hoped to get from ACTA.

“Nothing. The trademark and counterfeiting people really need it. There’s nothing in it for us, or for any copyright holders,” one entertainment industry lawyer told me.
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Furious freetards blitz the wrong SOPA

Angry copyfighters barraged a small Scottish food certification agency with abuse last week – in the belief they were protesting against hated US anti-piracy legislation.

The Scottish Organic Producers Association – whose website is at sopa.org.uk – was perplexed when it found itself on the receiving of dozens of nasty and illiterate emails.

Remarkably, nothing about the site’s design – including pictures of sheep, vegetables, Angus cattle and fruit – did anything to suggest to the furious freetards that they’d got the wrong SOPA – or that something might be not quite right.

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We can ditch the laws when the Valley’s snotty web teens grow up

stop-sopa

I am going to propose something that may sound radical, but really isn’t. Legislation like SOPA ideally isn’t necessary in an ideal world, and this idea comes about through voluntary agreement. The Stop Online Piracy Act was proposed because of a tragic impasse, a lack of agreement between two powerful and deeply entrenched sides. Although one side has moral force on its side, being ‘right’ doesn’t mean it’s going to ‘win’. Like a classic game theory tragedy, both sides are losing.

To understand why I shall tell you a story. If management sages and internet gurus annoy you – it’s a story you might enjoy.

When he died in 1903, the prolific Victorian journalist and author Herbert Spencer was thought to be one of the cleverest people in the land, and England’s greatest philosopher. Such was his reputation, there was a clamour to bury him in Westminster Abbey. But in reality, Spencer was a hard-working clot, whose reputation fell more sharply and quickly than that of a disgraced fraudster.

Spencer knew all the right buzzwords, but was loathe to read past the first chapter of a book. Spencer even carried ear-plugs in case he was exposed to interesting new ideas, as he feared intellectual stimulation might keep him awake; he often inserted the ear-plugs midway through a conversation. He masked all this, and his books were phenomenally popular, because he stuck to opaque but calming generalisations. Rather than resolve a matter, his generalisations allowed him to waffle around it. (He also heaped on masses of detail to sidetrack the reader). When the novelist George Eliot complimented the old man on the lack of wrinkles on his forehead, Spencer replied that he’d never encountered anything that ever puzzled him.

Spencer may have been the Victorian Malcolm Gladwell, or Tom Peters, or Tim O’Reilly. Generalisations are a great way of avoiding looking at what’s really going on, and tackling a subject with arguments from first principles. Social media has turned this kind of showy avoidance of reality into a massive multiplayer game. Twitter is an ocean in which armies of cliches swim pass each other. You can even badge your avatar to remove any doubts in the audience about nuances in your position: ‘STOP SOPA’ being the most recent. SOPA has indeed been stopped, or fatally gutted.

While the legislation is now moribund, the underlying concerns behind SOPA haven’t gone away. No amount of bloviating is going to resolve this. The main provision of SOPA (and PIPA) is website-blocking, which has no friends here at El Reg. But SOPA will return next year, and the year after, until the issues have been tackled head on. The STOP SOPA stickers will return. It’s all avoidable and getting quite tedious.

The internet has a problem

In the Panglossian worldview of Silicon Valley, everything is perfect on the internet, it’s the best of all possible worlds, and any tinkering with this robs humanity of its last Utopian hope. This is a view of the world that actually owes much to religion, or the desire to recreate the certainty of religion. It’s faith-based, and isn’t a view grounded in reality, especially the reality of doing business. On the internet, fame may arrive quickly, but financial reward doesn’t follow. It’s the only area of business where this is true.

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The bureaucratic elite and the Google Review. The story continues…

It’s also a stealth project – ECL was omitted from the Executive Summary that only hurried politicians and the media ever read

The Business Department BiS has launched a copyright consultation, inviting views on the recommendations raised in the "Google Review", as the "Hargreaves Review into IP and Growth" became known.

Hargreaves was tasked with looking for changes in UK IP law that could stimulate economic growth. Ian Hargreaves’ review featured significant input from the IPO, formerly the Patent Office, which was once at the Ministry of Fun, but is now an ideologically supercharged hothouse within BiS. Hargreaves and the bureaucrats faced two significant challenges.

One is that the small and medium-sized businesses that try and create wealth using the patents and copyright systems have a very different view of the "problem" than Google does, or a bureaucrat does. Patents are ruinously expensive for a clever inventor to defend, and many can’t afford to do so. Copyright can’t be cheaply or effectively enforced online – a big problem for the entire supply chain in various sectors from photographers and visual artists, to independent film makers, to labels – to name just a few.

When digital SMEs were actually asked what they thought of the IP landscape, they were quite emphatic. Only 10 per cent thought copyright was unfair, 7 per cent said it stopped them innovating, and only 5 per cent thought the UK copyright regime stopped them innovating. Large majorities of two-thirds or three-quarters thought copyright fair, and encouraged innovation. These figures, by the way, are from a report included in Google’s submission, created at Google’s expense… [pdf].

Over half of SMEs want better enforcement of their rights as inventors and creators. 52 per cent of SMEs said the costs of IP enforcement deterred them from using the system. It might have been expected, therefore, that Hargreaves would focus his time on enlightened enforcement suggestions, making policing cheap to stimulate growth.

But any attempt to enforce IP brings out the Chicken Little crowd, honking furiously that the sky is falling in on them. To enforce copyright online risks destroying the Unicorns’ natural habitat: the cybernetic meadow.

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Oops: Public supports web-blocking in Google-funded poll

Talk about an inconvenient fact. A survey into US attitudes to internet piracy shows strong public support for blocking access to websites guilty of serial copyright infringement. No fewer than 58 per cent support the idea of ISPs blocking the pirate sites, and 36 per cent disagree with this. Of the respondents, 61 per cent want sites like Facebook to take more action to screen for infringing material.

This may not be what the corporate sponsor Google, which benefits from internet piracy and fights enforcement proposals, had in mind when it funded the research. Google is currently leading the opposition to the new SOPA legislation in the US, which obliges service providers to take greater responsibility.

Perhaps, as in Brecht’s poem, Google wishes “to dissolve the people and elect another”, until they get the answer they want.
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Your digital rights? Collateral damage, sorry.

MPs heard a spirited debate about digital rights this week – including the digital rights you might or might not have as an amateur creator.

Big media companies would like the freedom to use artwork they find on the web without having to worry about lawsuits or negotiating market rates with creators. The web is awash with unattributed “orphan works” – and thanks to cheaper technology, social networks and self-publishing, there’s more being published than at any time in history.

There’s also a strong case for releasing enormous amounts of cultural work that doesn’t have a traceable author, and institutions such as the British Library would like to release this and commercialise it. These are also, confusingly, called “orphan works”.

The problem is, how can you release these cultural works without imperilling the professional market or the rights of amateurs whose work can end up as valuable front page commodity?
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“Immense wealth awaits. Email Ian Hargreaves with bank details, statute book”

Now we know why what was widely called the “Google Review” into intellectual property came to the conclusions it did. And we have it from the horse’s mouth: not Google, but Professor Ian Hargreaves and his team at the IPO, who “guided” him.

If you recall, a year ago the Prime Minister David Cameron revealed that the Google founders that they could never have founded Google in the UK, because of its copyright law. Even Google could never substantiate the quote, or provide a citation. Rather than getting a public inquiry, and shaming, of a foreign corporation for misleading our PM so badly – Google got the government to explore how the law could be altered… to benefit companies like Google.

So the review began with a mistake, and its guiding philosophical idea was a naive, simplified, and fantastical version of the world. This set the tone for what followed.

Hargreaves came across as wry and likeable, as he always does, but his words revealed the bien pensant view of the internet, its potential, and its commercial challenges.

“Politicians are afraid to address [copyright] because of fear of damaging the entirely legitimate and desirable wishes of musicians and other creators to have a fair level of protection, so they can make a return on their own work. I do disagree how this machinery has spread, and become an undesirable regulatory restraint on the internet [our emphasis] and the internet’s effects on the economy

He continued:

“That is a very, very big risk for an advanced knowledge economy like the UK to run. In my view we can’t afford to run it. It’s urgent; the government has to take the action I have recommended it take”.

The sky was falling, he’d felt a piece of it land on his head. And he hammered home this urgency in his conclusion, in case you missed it:

“The digital revolution is not one-third complete, based on the penetration of the internet around the world. If we don’t ‘Get with the Pace‘, we will pay a significant economic price.”

There are several flaws to this approach.
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Citizen Killock misleads MPs

Parliament’s Business Select Committee heard some interesting news today, as they mulled the Hargreaves Report’s recommendations. Executive director of the Open Rights Group Jim Killock told MPs that the UK’s copyright laws were deterring investors and new businesses. Alas, he could have picked a better example.

Killock said Netflix had looked at the UK market and spurned it for South America instead.

“Our digital market in film is falling behind Colombia,” he told MPs.

This is mystifying, since 10 days ago Netflix revealed its plans for its UK launch – giving analysts and press the full details. The service will launch early next year.

We wondered if it was a slip of the tongue: perhaps he meant Hulu? But for everyone’s benefit, he repeated the claim later on in the session: Netflix isn’t coming to the UK, and copyright law is to blame.

So is the UK months behind the rest of the world? Not really. Netflix entered the Latin American market just seven weeks ago.

Whatever points ORG may have had to make on government digital policy became easy for MPs to dismiss. One member remarked on the “ferocity” of Killock’s contribution, and bluntly told him that the evidence contradicted his statement.

It’s yet more amateurish campaigning from the group. Surely they can afford last week’s papers?

Wolfie of the IPO

Britain could have invented the iPod – if it wasn’t for a copyright law that everyone ignores. So says the UK government in a remarkable economic justification of the so-called “Google Review”, the Review of IP and Growth led by Ian Hargreaves. The document was written for the government by civil servants at the IPO, part of the business department BIS.
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Free Ride: Disney, Fela Kuti and Google’s war on copyright

Wars over creators’ rights are pretty old – much older than copyright law. In one of the first “copyfights”, in 561AD, about 3,000 people died, writes Robert Levine in his new book Free Ride. St Colmcille and St Finnian clashed over the right to make copies of the Bible, with the King castigating Colmcille for his “fancy new ideas about people’s property”.

Levine’s book is a story of the digital copyright wars.

“I tried to write in an analytical way about something people get very emotional about. I don’t really believe the entertainment industry is good and the technology industry is bad; I just don’t see it as a morality issue. Businesses are in business to make money,” Levine says.

The book details the calamitous decisions made by the music business, particularly in its suing of end users for infringement. “In a few years,” he writes, “the major labels managed to destroy the cultural cachet they had spent decades building.”

The book also follows in detail Google’s “war on copyright” and the academics and activists who benefit from it. It comprehensively demolishes the arguments put by Lawrence Lessig, who helped create the cyberlaw industry. This is a book with masses of solid, meticulously researched detail.

I caught up with Levine in Berlin.

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