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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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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Copyright and the psychology of victimhood

Of course, there’s real oppression, then there’s having to pay for music you want to keep. You can listen to almost anything for free, anyway.

Your reporter’s view is that file-sharing is a real joy – that should be legally available. The music industry should concentrate on innovation, and delighting the substantial majority of us who are prepared to pay with new services, as its Number One priority. But it’s their stuff, and they’re entitled to go after the odd idiot who is too selfish to pay, or too stupid to know the law, if they want to.

Read more at The Register.

EU wants to erect opt-in hurdle for creators

A potentially incendiary EU report released today recommends making changes to the Berne Convention – and creating several new layers of bureaucracy in order to deal with the digitisation of cultural stuff. Creators would have to “opt-in” to a new database before getting their rights, which have historically been guaranteed by Berne signatories since 1886.

Berne is administered by the UN quango World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and changes are made only every few generations – it was last amended in 1979. Undaunted, a committee of “wise men” (actually, just three people) reporting to the EU’s Information Society initiative i2010 Digital Libraries Initiative has recommended “some form of registration as a precondition for a full exercise of rights” [Our emphasis].

The problem? Berne establishes most parts of copyright as an automatic, global right. Unravelling this would undermine the entire treaty – which isn’t likely.
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