Web politics: The honeymoon is over

Parallel moves in Canada and the US may signal the end of the honeymoon for web-based political campaigning – or change it beyond recognition.

Politicians are becoming increasingly familiar with sudden squalls of email filling up their inboxes, and policy makers with responses to public consultations arriving via a web intermediary. But not surprisingly many of these can be phoney, inflating the true size of what purports to be "grassroots" campaign.

The shortcomings of the web-based approach were illustrated here recently. Photographers on a shoestring budget successfully mobilised against Clause 43 – but internet campaigners concerned about file-sharing who used a site to send 20,000 emails about the Digital Economy Act failed to make an impression, resulting in a triumph for the BPI.

Earlier this month Obama’s internet guru, Harvard academic Cass Sunstein, warned departments that internet opinion shouldn’t be used as an opinion poll or focus group. He advised that:

Agencies exercise good judgment and caution when using rankings, ratings, or tagging. Specifically, agency use of the information generated by these tools should be limited to organizing, ranking, and sorting comments. Because, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning.

That’s pretty conclusive. Four years ago, Sunstein published a love letter to Web 2.0 called Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge that praised Wikipedia, blogs and prediction markets. But this is an altogether more sober assessment. He seems to have had second thoughts.

A vivid illustration of how a few single-issue fanatics can skew the results of an opinion poll is currently being digested in Canada. Lawyer Richard Owens has investigated the responses and found something quite interesting.

In response to a copyright form paper, over 8,000 responses were submitted, but 65 per cent of these were an identical form email from one IP address, the "Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights". Owens notes that these:

…Included Submissions in which: no names were used; only first names were used (there were, for example, sixty-eight “Chris” and seventy-two “John” who made Submissions); and, suspect names, such as – “D Man”, “El Qwazo”, “pr0f1t”, “Cereal”, and “Eagle” – were used. Given the ability to submit anonymously or under false identification, is highly probable that there are multiple Submissions from the same persons.

 

The CCER form letter had been circulated around Bittorrent P2P fan sites. But most of the visitors to these sites aren’t Canadian. Quantity overruled quality.

Observers wondered whether something similar might have happened in the UK. When the Open Rights Group ventured into the real world, the numbers were small: it mustered just over 100 bodies for its main demo, and only single figures for its "flash mobs". The ORG’s "Your Message To Mandelson" campaign launched last year rapidly gathered 300 anonymous messages – but stalled at around the 500 mark.

Such disparities led people to question how representative the online activity really was. "Is this a particularly well-focussed campaign by a relatively small group of activists?", asked the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones.

Read more at The Register

How the photographers won, while digital rights failed

How did the music business end up with a triumph with the new Digital Economy Act? How did photographers, whose resources were one laptop and some old fashioned persuasion, carry an unlikely and famous victory? How did the digital rights campaigners fail so badly?

Back in January, a senior music business figure explained to me that Clause 17, which gave open-ended powers to the Secretary of State, was unlikely to survive the wash-up. But he didn’t much care; the other sections which compelled the ISPs to take action against infringers were good enough. Anything else was a bonus – possibly even a distraction. Yet to the amazement of the music business, web blocking is now legislation.

I think this is a watershed in internet campaigning. It’s not just a tactical defeat, it’s a full-on charge of the light brigade…

Read more at The Register

BBC investigates Richard Madeley’s PC panic attack

Richard Madeley told the nation how the Government was going to whisk away his computer last week. The BBC has promised to investigate.

The segment on Monday’s Simon Mayo drive time heard Madeley, who is filling in for Mayo, say:

“What a pain! I only got computer literate three years ago, just as I get wised up to it, they take it away.”

We don’t yet know how many car accidents were caused by the news of mass confiscations.

Madeley was following a segment of the show about the Digital Economy Bill (now Act). The sole ‘expert’ was Professor Lilian Edwards. Edwards was simply billed as “a Professor of Law” at Sheffield University.
Continue reading “BBC investigates Richard Madeley’s PC panic attack”

TalkTalk, ORG see cash from Mandybill chaos


Never let the facts, or taste, get in the way of a marketing campaign, we say.

TalkTalk boldly promised today to fight disconnection requests in court, at least until after the election. Carphone Warehouse strategy director Andrew Heaney made the pledge on his blog.

The fact that ISPs don’t get any disconnection requests, and if they did, they would (rightly) throw them in the bin along with other junk mail, isn’t mentioned. Such a request would currently have the legal validity of a request to paint your house pink, scribbled on a fag packet and thrown from a passing car.

Heaney’s pledge is only good until “after the Election”. If account suspensions are eventually approved, it won’t be for a long time.

Maybe Heaney thinks we’re all extremely stupid. Or maybe he’s just found his audience.

“I’m impressed. Well done,” comments Stef Lewandowski, a marketing guru who has advised quango Nesta and the Department of Culture Media and Sport, and is a Cultural Leadership Fellow at the Arts Council-sponsored Clore programme, studying “Accelerated Serendipity“.

“Seven Years of Donations Fighting, Brothers…”

Meanwhile Open Rights Group’s Maximum Leader, Comrade Jim Killock, was crowing about the success of the appeals drive, launched to capitalise on the ORG’s spectacular success (are you sure? – Ed) with the Digital Economy Bill.

The ORG’s entire front page was replaced with a “Fuck You” graphic, soliciting donations. This prompted dismay from supporters, according to emails that fell into our inbox.

“Someone – please – say that the ORG server has been hacked by some script kiddies,” wrote one supporter. “Oh, for heavens sake are we in the school playground? Who are we trying to attract?” asked another. “Yes, we lost a round – there’s no reason to become petulant and offensive.”

Killock eventually obliged, but then noticed something:

“Hum guys, since we took the graphic down, nobody’s joined up (from 16.50 till now) – that’s cost us about £2000* assuming they’re not joining because we’re not pushing them as strongly”

So he put it back up again.

Comrade Jim explained that five people an hour were joining while the front page had displayed the middle finger – which indicates what an impressive mass movement the music industry is up against. That’s almost enough for an ORG Flash Mob. The average pledge was £60, which Jim multiplied over seven years.

(Obviously he expects the ‘copyfight’ to go on… and on… and on.)

“I’m very understanding of the issues people have raised, but a strong reaction – one that will offend some people while making other people agree violently – is required to make people part with their cash.”

That’s the spirit, Jim.

Kumbaya is not a legal defence

Maybe photographers have a guardian angel, after all. The Stop 43 campaign to throw out the orphan works clause may be the only part of the vast Digital Economy Bill where activists have achieved their goal – rather than made things worse. With the Tories pledging to drop the clause, it’s unlikely to survive the wash-up – although we won’t know for sure until very late tonight.

Eleventh-hour validation for the photographers came thanks to Labour’s obsession with Web 2.0 gimmickry, which delivered them a gift last Friday.

Labour launched a Photoshopped poster of David Cameron as Gene Hunt, which the Guardian soberly reminded us, showed “a recognition that the best ideas do not always belong to ad executives in London”.

Two Milliband brothers were on hand, looking extraordinarily pleased with themselves. Just one problem: they didn’t ask for anyone’s permission. Image rights for Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes belong to the BBC. Cameron’s mugshot is also under copyright.

The problem with Freetards is that they don’t just miss the point, they close their eyes and run as fast as they can past it, screaming.

“It demonstrated every point we had been making,” a Stop43 campaigner told us today.

It’s not the first time Labour has used images to which they have no rights. And to demonstrate that they’re 100 per cent fail-compatible with Labour, the Webtastic Tories followed suit.

It didn’t go unnoticed by MPs.

Yesterday Peter Luff (Con.) pointed out it was a “spectacular demonstration” of Stop43’s points.

Tom Watson MP, currently with Labour but also the First Minister of Freetardia, disagreed. He arose to gave the boilerplate Web2.0rhea perspective:

“That message was mixed by Labour spin doctors, then remixed by Conservative spin doctors. He is proving the point that mixing culture and the power of sharing are new in the internet age”

“That is precisely why the Bill is so incompetent. We are not going to stop people sharing content with each other and using it creatively to create new things. He should be proud that young people are mixing up these images to engage in political debate.”

Maybe.

But the problem with Freetards, even Freetard MPs – is that they don’t just miss the point, they close their eyes and run as fast as they can past it, screaming.

It was left to Luff to apply the lethal injection:

“Ah, that is a very interesting point,” he said. Luff pointed out that a quick search showed how easy it was to find the BBC original and contact the photographer. There was even a telephone number. He continued:

“We should not forget that the BBC, as this blog says, is one of the main proponents of a Bill to allow use of other people’s images in ways they did not envisage without permission or payment, yet it is furious that without permission or payment someone has taken a BBC image and used it in a way that the BBC did not envisage.”

Moral rights, or droit d’auteur, isn’t mentioned very often in Professor Lawrence Lessig’s books. That’s undoubtedly why Watson hasn’t heard of it.

P2P study: crackdown is bad for business

A study of P2P music exchanges to be revealed this week suggests that the ailing music business is shunning a lucrative lifeline by refusing to license the activity for money.

Entitled “The Long Tail of P2P”, the study by Will Page of performing rights society PRS For Music and Eric Garland of P2P research outfit Big Champagne will be aired at The Great Escape music convention tomorrow. It’s a follow-up to Page’s study last year which helped debunk the myth of the “Long Tail”. Page examined song purchases at a large online digital retail store, which showed that out of an inventory of 13 million songs, 10 million had never been downloaded, even once. It suggested that the idea proposed by WiReD magazine editor Chris Anderson, who in 2004 urged that the future of business was digital retailers carrying larger inventories of slow-selling items was a Utopian fantasy.

The P2P networks are harder to quantify, but apparently show a similar pattern, where most of the action – and profit – is in the ‘head’. Each Top 100 CD on on PirateBay averaged 58,000 downloads a week, for example. Lady GaGa’s The Fame was downloaded 388,000 times in a week from PirateBay alone. Like its predecessor, the new study also finds that downloads follow a log-normal, rather a Pareto (or “power curve”) distribution as Anderson envisaged. The WiReD man had guessed the shape of the internet – and picked the wrong shape.

Read more at The Register.

Charlie Nesson's trip

L.S.and D.

Has Charlie Nesson been at the magic mushrooms again? The hippy head of the Berkman Center, the influential New Age techno-utopian think tank that’s attached to Harvard Law School, wants to enlist Radiohead in his fight against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Nesson, a long-time opponent of creator’s digital rights, is contesting the statutory damages in infringement cases. A Boston graduate student called Joel Tenenbaum was ordered to reach a settlement with the record companies after being sued for copyright infringement, having shared files using the Kazaa P2P network back in 2003. Nesson’s strategy in Sony BMG Music vs Tenenbaum is to put the music business on trial. That’s fine – suing freetards isn’t going to stop P2P file sharing and it isn’t going to save the music business. It only adds to the anoraks’ persecution complex. Even the RIAA has now concluded it’s the wrong strategy.

But is Nesson the man to fight The Man? Nesson’s novel argument is that unlicensed P2P file sharing is “fair use”. Even his Harvard students, who are doing the work for him, think that’s stretch. And maybe he doesn’t want to win, just preen about in front of a camera. He wants it televised, he Arse Technica, because:

“It’s like a reality show that we can all be participants in as we go along… It’s an incredibly powerful expansion of the idea of teaching.”
Continue reading “Charlie Nesson's trip”

Pirate Bay's neo-Nazi sugar daddy

Pirate Bay cartoon T-shirt

The trial of the Pirate Bay operators in Sweden has generated huge amounts of media coverage. But one of the most interesting things about Pirate Bay hasn’t got a mention.

In his daily dispatches for WiReD, court correspondent Oscar Schwartz swoons over the boyish charm of “likeable” and “winning” Pirate Bay PR guy Peter Sunde. But there seems to be something about Pirate Bay that no one wants you to read: its debt to one of the most notorious fascists in Europe.

Continue reading “Pirate Bay's neo-Nazi sugar daddy”

Joi Ito's Vanity Photo Album: Eicher

Powerful aristocrats throughout history have commissioned portraits by master artists to immortalize their achievements. Now amateur photographer and Creative Commons advocate Joi Ito is offering that immortality to bloggers, bureaucrats, coders, CEOs, and other obscure Free Software functionaries, in an expensive limited-edition “blook,” Freesouls. Ito muses, “Now the question is whether the demand for this book will actually exceed the number of people who appear in the book.” His concern is justified, the book’s content is freely downloadable under a CC license, with the notable exception of Ito’s own copyrighted portrait.

There is little aesthetic or technical merit in Ito’s portraiture. Most of the photographs have the charm and warmth of a corporate annual report. Many are blurry, poorly color balanced, crooked, or have distracting backgrounds. Ito seems to have discovered his limitations, converting most of his images to black and white, using a Photoshop effect known as the “Leica Look.” This emulates the classic, dramatic look of film, but the results are often unflattering.

But the quality of Ito’s photographs is beside the point (which is a major flaw in a photo book). Ito is the paparazzi of the internet in-crowd. These are his friends, they are cooler than you. Who they are is more important than how they look.

When I first learned photography in art school, the aesthetic paradigm was “Mirrors and Windows.” Photographs are a window into others’ lives, or a mirror into our own soul. But Ito’s book is a Creative Commons manifesto wrapped in photography. Ito demands that authors and artists do as he has done, they must give away their work without compensation, in order to free their soul. His book is a bullhorn blasting through your window, declaring that if you look in the mirror and don’t see what he sees, you have no soul. Copyrights are a contract with the devil. Lacking a soul, you will be invisible in a mirror.

…Read more at The Register.

The hitman, the Pirate Bay and the Freetard professor

REG: What’s the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?!
FRANCIS: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression!
REG: It’s symbolic of his struggle against reality

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Everyone’s a prankster these days – it’s all in the name of art.

On Monday a former Irish loyalist hitman was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the attempted murder of senior Sinn Fein leaders. Michael Stone had burst into the Belfast Assembly with nail bombs, a garotte, an axe and knives, but was quickly wrestled to the ground. In court, Stone claimed the event had been a piece of “performance art”.

Stone’s paintings had exhibited at Belfast Engine Room Gallery. In court, Stone was defiant: “Make art, not war,” he told an unimpressed judge.

But Stone’s not alone. Last week two art school students in the Netherlands released a software prank. They developed a Firefox brower plug-in that redirected Amazon.com surfers to unlicensed versions of the same material on P2P site Pirate Bay. The Pirates of the Amazon (geddit?) plug-in was quickly withdrawn after Amazon.com lawyers got in touch with the students’ ISP.
Continue reading “The hitman, the Pirate Bay and the Freetard professor”