Posts Tagged ‘freetards’

“The price of nothing”

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Kim Dotcom

Kim Dotcom has a new service, with features that Forbes calls “See No Evil, Store No Evil”. But perhaps that should be “see no value, store no value”.

I have not come to mock the rotund self-promoter, but rather to talk about what might happen if its users were to throw themselves at the service to share copyrighted content. But first, a history lesson.

One criticism of the monetarists during the Thatcher years was that they “knew the price of everything and the value of nothing”. It’s a magnificent phrase: a withering encapsulation of the view that value doesn’t merely reside in a price. It also strongly implies that these individuals were guilty of philistinism.

This condemnation was a response to some radical changes. After many years in which the supremacy of technocratic planning had been unquestioned, Britain in the 1980s saw supply-side reforms introduced in many areas. These were intended to reveal a pricing signal. John Birt’s Producer Choice at the BBC – which gave programme makers the power to buy services from outside the BBC – was one example, and internal markets at the NHS were another.

Enthusiasts for the changes argued that while the new systems coughed up occasional absurdities, the internal markets put a price on goods which ultimately allowed resources to be used more efficiently than a central planner could anticipate.

People responded to the pricing signal by thinking about how they used things. They began to use things more cleverly, and source alternate supplies, for example. The “value of nothing” was a response to the fact that “somethings” had a value beyond the immediate market price signal. For example, we might want to subsidise a good or service (like transport, or coal power) for a long-term benefit.

Now let’s wind forward to today. Something quite remarkable emerges.
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How to fix the broken internet economy

Friday, July 13th, 2012

How can we begin to unpick the tangled mess that the technology and creative industries have created?

There’s certainly no shortage of blame to go around. In the past every new wave of technology has delivered healthy creative markets – but today this is no longer happening.

Just 20 years since the birth of the internet economy, with the advent of the worldwide web, it’s worth asking why. It’s time we looked afresh at where both industries went wrong, and how they can get on the right track again.

Much of what follows will highlight key mistakes made – but before we do that, we need to put them in some historical context. What worked in the past is a fairly reliable indication of what can work again in the future.

The current impasse between technology and copyright sectors is certainly an odd one. Historically, war is the greatest driver of technological innovation of all, but in peacetime it’s the demand for culture and entertainment that spurs the most innovation. People want to see and hear stuff, and are prepared to pay for it.

The cash generated is ploughed into more entertainment – even creating new art forms. (Recall how the first movie dramas were starchy, filmed theatrical plays.) This creates more investment in technology so people can enjoy the entertainment in a better way. Round and round it goes.

At the heart of this virtuous circle, copyright has been the obscure back-room business-to-business mechanism that keeps the players honest. Creators demanded that their industries engage with the new technologies to create new markets, which returned more money for their talent.

As a result technology innovators needed to attract talented creative people, and induce them to produce stuff for their kit: recording their music on long-players rather than shellac, or printing their movies in Technicolor™. So the two sides need each other. Technologists’ incentives were simple: create more amazing gear to deliver the best of other people’s stuff. And each wave of innovation grew the market, and ensured the creators and workers were richer. Remember: No innovation has ever made creative industries poorer.

Unfortunately, the truth of this historical mutual dependency gets forgotten today because the incentives aren’t lined up. Investment decisions in technology services are made without a thought for the health of the creative people who generate the demand for the goods. Creative investment decisions either don’t take advantage of the technology, or are hamstrung in a way that leaves the potential of the technology untapped. Things are also complicated by another factor we’ll call the Unicorn.

I’ll open the catalogue of errors at chapter one, the music industry.
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The Open Rights Group gets rights wrong. Again

Friday, June 29th, 2012

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When Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock opens his mouth, his foot soon disappears inside. The UK’s leading digital rights advocate has just demonstrated still more difficulty understanding the "rights" the group campaigns about.

At a Citizen 2012 data conference in London yesterday, where he was introduced as "the infamous Jim Killock", Citizen Jim listed the many injustices of the UK’s copyright law.

"The Olympic logo is copyright. The Olympic mascots are copyright. Therefore, reusing them is a breach of copyright and of course parodies using them get pulled down," claimed Killock.

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The IPO Enquiry

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

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Sketches from the three hearings held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Intellectual Property’s enquiry into the IPO in April and May 2012

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Popper, Soros, and Pseudo-Masochism

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

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A new report by intellectual property campaigners has again put the UK on the naughty step.

This year, as last year, activists list the UK alongside Brazil and Thailand as having the most “oppressive” copyright laws in the world. The report was published by an international NGO called Consumer International, but this delegates the work out to a Soros-funded group called A2K.

It’s certainly a bold point of view. How does it arrive at this conclusion? Helpfully, we have the founder’s testimony to aid us.

A2K Network’s world view is that “publicly owned” knowledge is good, but “privately owned” knowledge is bad. It considers this a binary, zero-sum choice – and it is also one that trumps all other considerations.

So, by A2K’s yardstick, it doesn’t matter if the knowledge is easily accessible to citizens. It doesn’t matter, either, if a wide range of cultural material is available: a plurality of goods. Or that all this material is accessible to us at a low cost. Private ownership is the most important factor in any consideration; private ownership is evil.

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Copyright on languages and APIs: why it’s a bad thing

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

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Computer languages and software interfaces may fall under copyright protection if Oracle succeeds in its Java lawsuit against Google. Amazingly, “copyfighters” appear to have paid little or no notice to this rare extension of copyright into new realms. But the consequences and costs for the software industry could be enormous.

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A short history of “Breaking the Internet”

Monday, April 9th, 2012

“I am the head of IT and I have it on good authority that if you type ‘Google’ into Google, you can break the Internet. So please, no one try it, even for a joke. It’s not a laughing matter. You can break the Internet”
- Jen, The IT Crowd

For 15 years internet companies have been waging a war against any kind of laws that establish properties and permissions for digital things. Every attempt to do so has been bitterly fought. It’s the one constant in Silicon Valley’s battles against the copyright industries. The fight has crippled the traditional, historical partnership between technology and creators that benefited everyone. But it has also had an awful unintended consequence: it has weakened our ability to establish the clear property rights we need to protect our privacy.

When, in February, the EU tentatively suggested rules based on the principle that people own their own data, and this property right includes exclusivity (“the right to be forgotten”) – guess who was firing all guns against it? Facebook and Google… At Davos, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said the EU proposal would “break the internet”.

Just this week the UK government caused a huge privacy storm when it floated the idea of making internet companies keep a record of all personal communications on the the internet. While it argued that it wanted to store “traffic” data, not the contents of communications, little would be exempt: emails, blog comments, Tweets and Facebook Likes.

And more alarmingly, this trove of information would be casually available to busybodies. In 2010 alone, public authorities submitted 552,000 requests for communications data under RIPA. We’ve already seen how local councils, for example, initiate surveillance operations using the Act.

RIPA is intended to prevent “serious crimes”, requiring necessity and proportionality. But councils have used it to tackle “serious crimes” such as smoking, and putting recycling in the wrong bag. Some even boast about it. The new store of electronic communications would add to the data available to them. It’s a huge intrusion by the state into business that isn’t its own.

At the same time, Facebook and Google operate their own global data collection systems, hoarding huge amounts of personal data. And this is merely the start. The regression models that Facebook and Google use to predict consumer behaviour for advertisers are exactly what law enforcement agencies dream can be put to use to predict crime or ‘deviant’ behaviour. In a 2012 rewrite of Philip K Dick’s Minority Report, the “Pre Crime Division” will not require mutants floating in tanks – just software.

Privacy is not a luxury, or an optional extra – a world without privacy raises all kinds of ethical issues, and everyday judgements made about us.

So how can we halt this slide to Panopticon, where everything we do online is dipped into?

Well, no matter what law you pass, it won’t work unless there’s ownership attached to data, and you, as the individual, are the ultimate owner. From the basis of ownership, we can then agree what kind of rights are associated with the data – eg, the right to exclude people from it, the right to sell it or exchange it – and then build a permission-based world on top of that. None of this is possible without the fundamental recognition that it’s the individual – you or me – who ultimately owns it, and ultimately decides what’s then done with it, and by whom. Without properties and permissions on digital “things”, there will be no digital privacy.

I’ll illustrate this with a short story that you probably haven’t heard before – about this great phrase.

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Cameron’s ‘Google Review’ sparked by killer quote that never was

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

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Prime Minister David Cameron launched a sweeping review of UK intellectual property law based on an assertion – that the founders of Google believed they could "never have started their company in Britain" – he can’t support, from a source nobody can find. We know this because new information released by No 10 in response to FOIA requests has ruled out private conversations as the possible source.

This is truly a strange story, and it starts in November 2010.

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Our ‘digital economy’ is still a circular firing squad

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The British ISP industry has spent a small fortune of its customers’ money fighting the people who would, in a saner world, be its business partners – only to suffer a crushing defeat. On Tuesday Lord Justice Richards threw out BT and TalkTalk’s judicial review against the 2010 Digital Economy Act.

Yet as trench warfare goes, they may consider it worth every penny.

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French National Front woos internet pirates

Monday, February 20th, 2012

The leader of the French National Front party, Marine Le Pen, wants Hadopi scrapped and replaced with a blanket licence to compensate creative industries. The extreme right party’s freetard-friendly gambit has caused the Socialists, who also oppose Hadopi, to rethink their policies.
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