Jag Bahra examines Governments' use of web blocking and the threat it poses to the open internet
In the wake of the draconian and controversial Digital Economy Act (which remains standing after BT and Talk Talk's judicial review was dismissed this week) Ed Vaizey has unveiled plans for what has quickly been dubbed the 'Great Firewall of Britain'. The Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries is now considering robust and streamlined measures for web blocking - in order to curb online copyright infringement.
This poses a significant threat to the open internet. Worryingly, consumer interest groups such as ORG have so far been shut out of all discussion and consultation. It seems that once again the Government are allowing policy to be heavily (if not totally) influenced by corporate rights owners such as the BPI.
But is there anything new to this approach? In the last decade web blocking regimes have been springing up all over the world. Most commonly, they are introduced in order to stop the spreading of child pornography. Such content is clearly morally reprehensible and this sort of crime must be stopped. Preventing access to child pornography is surely the first step in working towards the primary objectives of protecting children from abuse, and bringing those responsible to justice.
Whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis, all blocking regimes seem to have the same key features and therefore present the same fundamental problems. Accused sites are placed on a secret blacklist. The list is secret and therefore the criteria for being placed on the list are not made clear. Decisions cannot be appealed and are unaccountable -being made by the police or specialist bodies.
The Courts are bypassed, completely sidestepping judicial oversight. The police exercise a judicial role, and the State decides what its citizens can and cannot see. ISPs are forced to police the internet - something which they have neither the ability nor the authority to do. Furthermore, blocking actually does nothing for the overall objective of child protection. Once websites are blocked, very little action is taken to remove the content from the internet at the source. The offending content is left online, doing nothing to assist law enforcement agencies in their efforts to apprehend the criminals.
Web blocking is criticised as a cosmetic measure, which gives the impression that action is being taken when in fact it is ineffective. DNS Blocking (the technique used to facilitate such a regime) merely creates the illusion that the content is inaccessible when in reality it continues to exist in cyberspace. Crucially, DNS blocking can easily be circumvented using a secure connection or proxy server - technologies that are readily available to any internet user.
Blocking actually provides an early warning to would-be criminals, giving them the opportunity to take steps in order to evade being caught, thereby making the job of the police even harder. Clearly this is completely counter-productive.
In any case, the majority of child pornography is currently spread via private chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks rather than publicly accessible websites. Web blocking does nothing to address these more sophisticated methods.
Removal of illicit content at its source is a far more effective measure than blocking, and the only real way to guarantee that no one will be able to access the content. Often when sites are blocked no further action is taken to have them properly removed or to bring offenders to justice.
In 2009 AK Zensur - a working group opposed to the German Government's mandatory blocking scheme - carried out an investigation into the effectiveness of blocking as a tool against child pornography. They found that, of the 167 blocked internet domains sampled, only 3 actually contained child porn. Two of those three sites had been already blocked in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland for up to two years and were therefore widely known to contain the illegal content.
Furthermore, two of the offending pages were taken down just half an hour after notification emails were sent to the hosts. Of the remaining blocked websites, up to half of them had been removed but the domains continued to be blocked. The investigation provided stark evidence that removal at the source was a practical and effective solution and that blocking was being used as a cover-up measure. The German blocking law was the subject of public outcry and political opinions were fiercely divided. Finally, last month it was announced that the law would be repealed.
The studies by AK Zensur and others also reveal the obviously high potential for collateral damage, meaning that innocent websites that contain no unlawful material may find themselves blocked. This could result in financial loss for the website owner and/or severe damage to reputation if a website is falsely implicated in illegal content.
In 2006 internet activist Matti Nikki set up lapsiporno.info (translatesas childporn.info) and leaked the Finnish blacklist so that people could see for themselves how flawed the system was. It was revealed that of the 1700 blocked sites surveyed, a mere 9 contained child pornography. The overwhelming majority were either legal porn sites or had nothing to do with pornography (including numerous child modelling agencies, a doll factory and a hearing aid manufacturer). A leak of the Danish list in 2008 revealed similar findings.
Thankfully some progress is being made. As already mentioned, German censorship was halted and it was recently announced that the law will be scrapped. Since 2006, Dutch ISPs participated in voluntary blocking but recently announced that, after finding it is an ineffective measure against child porn, will not continue to do so. A particularly draconian regime was proposed by the Australian Labor Party in 2007, in which a two-tier system of blocking of 'Reserved Classification' and other adult content would be imposed, however this is currently in legislative limbo and due to lack of political consensus it is thought unlikely to come to fruition.
Proposals for runaway mandatory EU-wide blocking were also tamed by the European LIBE Committee, whose amendments to the Council Framework Decision on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography shifted the emphasis to removal of unlawful content at the source, rather than superficial and ineffective blocking.
So what about copyright infringement? Are we likely to see mass web blocking being wielded as a weapon against filesharing and piracy in the UK? In many respects the issues are identical to those in the context of child pornography. Secret blacklists which lack transparency and accountability. No redress or right of appeal for those who are wrongly blocked. A disregard for due process. Not to mention the enormous implications for free speech that arise when what we can and cannot access is dictated to the Government by corporate interests.
So far, battles have been fought in the Courts and no truly 'voluntary' agreements have been entered into. The opinions of the Courts appear to be divided. In 2008 the IFPI successfully sued the Danish ISP Tele2 for refusing to block access to The Pirate Bay. This ruling was upheld by the Danish Supreme Court. A similar case was brought in Italy- lawyers for the defendants successfully appealed on thegrounds of the E-Commerce Directive but this was overturned by the Supreme Court.
In Ireland a case was brought in which the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) claimed ISPs were secondarily liable for the infringement of copyright being committed by subscribers on its network. The Court rejected this claim but the Judge appeared sympathetic, stating that injunctive relief against piracy would be 'merited on the facts'.
In 2010 Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN went to Court attempting to force ISPs to block the Pirate Bay. In a refreshingly balanced judgment the Court rejected the claim, on the grounds that a block would only be justified if it could be proved that the majority of subscribers were engaged in copyright infringement. As there was no such evidence, the Court would not compel ISPs to block access.
Interestingly the Pirate Bay reported that, due to the media attention surrounding the case, they had observed a 12% increase in Danish traffic after the block was put in place in 2008. They also observed no significant difference in traffic from Tele2 users, showing that blocking had in fact done nothing to reduce copyright infringement occurring via the site.
All the evidence shows that, just as with child pornography, blocking will not actually prevent access to the content. What it will do is inevitably block websites that have broken no laws, restrict access to information and hinder free speech.
To be absolutely clear, nobody is suggesting that child pornography should be protected by freedom of expression. But this is an issue that should be dealt with properly. Entrenching a system with such inevitable scope for mission creep is clearly cause for concern. First child pornography, then copyright infringement, what next? Political dissent? If we continue to widen the remit for web blocking we will soon find ourselves with a heavily regulated and censored internet. Do we really want to end up like China, North Korea, or Turkey?
It is of paramount importance that our fundamental rights are not compromised simply for the sake of a shambolic method of preventing access to illicit content - that won't work anyway. I urge you to write to your MP today and express your concerns.
Jag Bahra is a Law graduate, civil liberties and copyleft enthusiast
Wendy M. Grossman looks at the accessibility of fixing your own computer & the changing PC market
This week my four-year-old computer had a hissy fit and demanded, more or less simultaneously, a new graphics card, a new motherboard, and a new power supply. It was the power supply that was the culprit: when it blew it damaged the other two pieces. I blame an incident about six months ago when the power went out twice for a few seconds each time, a few minutes apart. The computer's always been a bit fussy since.
I took it to the tech guys around the corner to confirm the diagnosis, and we discussed which replacements to order and where to order them from. I am not a particularly technical person, and yet even I can repair this machine by plugging in replacement parts and updating some software. (It's fine now, thank you.)
Here's the thing: at no time did anyone say, "It's four years old. Just get a new one." Instead, the tech guys said, "It's a good computer with a good processor. Sure, replace those parts." A watershed moment: the first time a four-year-old computer is not dismissed as obsolete.
As if by magic, confirmation turned up last week, when the Guardian's Charles Arthur asked whether the PC market has permanently passed its peak. Arthur goes on to quote Jay Chou, a senior research analyst at IDC, suggesting that we are now in the age of "good-enough computing" and that computer manufacturers will now need to find ways to create a "compelling user experience".
Apple is the clear leader in that arena, although it's likely that if I'd had a Mac instead of a PC it would have been neither so easy nor so quick and inexpensive to fix my machine and get back to work on it. Macs are wonders of industrial design, but as I noted in 2007 when I built this machine, building PCs is now a color-by-numbers affair plugged together out of subsystem pieces that plug together in only one way. What it lacks in elegance compared to a Mac is more than made up for by being able to repair it myself.
But Chou is likely right that this is not the way the world is going.
In his 1998 book The Invisible Computer, usability pioneer Donald Norman projected a future of information appliances, arguing that computers would become invisible because they would be everywhere. (He did not, however, predict the ubiquitous 20-second delay that would accompany this development. You know, it used to be you could turn something on and it would work right away because it didn't have to load software into its memory?) For his model, Norman took electric motors: in the early days you bought one electric motor and used it to power all sorts of variegated attachments; later (now) you found yourself owning dozens of electric motors, all hidden inside appliances.
The trade-off is pretty much the same: the single electric motor with attachments was much more repairable by a knowledgeable end user than today's sealed black-box appliances are. Similarly, I can rebuild my PC, but I can only really replace the hard drive on my laptop, and the battery on my smart phone. iPhone users can't even do that. Norman, whose interest is usability, doesn't – or didn't, since he's written other books since – see this as necessarily a bad deal for consumers, who just want their technology to work intuitively so they can use it to get stuff done.
Jonathan Zittrain, though, has generally taken the opposite view, arguing in his book The Future of the Internet – and How to Stop It and in talks such as the one he gave at last year's Web science meeting that the general-purpose computer, which he dates to 1977, is dying. With it, to some extent, is going the open internet; it was at that point that, to illustrate what he meant by curated content, he did a nice little morph from the ultra-controlled main menu of CompuServe circa 1992 to today's iPhone home screen.
"How curated do we want things to be?" he asked.
It's the key question. Zittrain's view, backed up by Tim Wu in The Master Switch is that security and copyright may be the levers used to close down general-purpose computers and the internet, leaving us with a corporately-owned internet that runs on black boxes to which individual consumers have little or no access. This is, ultimately, what the "Open" in Open Rights Group seems to me to be about: ensuring that the most democratic medium ever invented remains a democratic medium.
Clearly, there are limits. The earliest computer kits were open – but only to the relatively small group of people with – or willing to acquire – considerable technical skill. My computer would not be more open to me if I had to get out a soldering iron to fix my old motherboard and code my own operating system.
Similarly, the skill required to deal with security threats like spam and malware attacks raises the technical bar of dealing with computers to the point where they might as well be the black boxes Zittrain fears. But somewhere between the soldering iron and the point-and-click of a TV remote control there has to be a sweet spot where the digital world is open to the most people. That's what I hope we can find.
Image: CC-AT-NC-SA Flickr: Deiby
Colin Jacobs of Electronic Frontiers Australia gives an overview of how the copyright battle is going down under
There's little sign that the global copyright war will let up any time soon. Wherever you go, the content industries are working hard to secure stronger "protections" for intellectual property and tougher penalties against those who infringe against these protections. Given the forces they can bring to bear - an army of lobbyists and an ocean of cash - it's not surprising that industry has won many of these battles.
Australia is one front in this war, and several notable skirmishes have occurred in recent times. The most significant has been a case in which the movie studios, represented by AFACT (the "Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft") sued Australia's third-largest ISP, iiNet, for authorising copyright infringement by allowing its users to download movies using BitTorrent.
Under Australian copyright law, a third party can be held accountable for a breach of copyright if they are found to have authorised the breach by "countenancing" it and providing the means to do so. This was tested in the courts in 1975 when a university was found liable for breaches of copyright because it provided a photocopier which students could use to make copies of books.
Bringing this suit against iiNet was a clear attempt to make ISPs liable for the content traversing their networks and is a probable first step on the road to introducing a graduated response mechanism to Australia. The ultimate outcome of the case will have enormous repercussions for the future of the industry and copyright law in Australia.
Fortunately, the signs have been positive so far. AFACT initially lost the case, with a heartening judgement by the trial judge, Justice Cowdroy, who even took AFACT to task for misleadingly using the word "theft" in their name. Justice Cowdroy found that the ISP had not authorised the infringement because they did not provide or operate BitTorrent; and even if they did, could fall back on the safe harbour provisions of the Copyright Act.
Unfortunately the content industry were not willing to let things be, and despite already losing one appeal so far are set to take the case to the High Court. Should iiNet eventually be found liable, it will precipitate a seismic shift in the way ISPs operate and could usher in an era of greater monitoring and punitive measures for alleged infringers. The industry are clearly hoping for a "three strikes" system. It's unlikely this would affect industry revenues, but Australian internet users would surely suffer from this lack of due process.
One of the more ridiculous but high profile cases involves two well-known songs with Aussie themes. Larrikin Music vs EMI is a case in which, for once, a large music publisher is on the receiving end of an overreaching copyright claim. Larrikin is a small company that owns the copyright to a well-known folk song, "The Kookaburra Song", which was composed in 1932 for a contest being held by the Victorian Guides. They claim that their song was plagiarised in the opening flute riff used in the 80's classic, Men At Work's "Down Under".
They claim that the melody in those first bars was copied from the Kookaburra Song. You can listen to some kids singing the former here and the Men at Work song (if you aren't old enough to remember it) here, and come to your own conclusion.
Sure enough, these handful of notes were sufficient for a court to find that the classic song infringed on Larrikin's copyright, and this too has been upheld. It's hard to find a better example of copyright acting as a barrier to the creation of art, but I don't expect a change of heart from EMI any time soon.
One tactic that industry employ around the world is the commissioning and release of reports showing the devastating impact piracy is having on the local economy. We're not spared this perennial favourite; several of these reports have made the news in recent weeks. The first, released by AFACT, extrapolated a telephone survey into massive economic damage, claiming piracy costs the Australian economy $1.4 billion per year, and at least 6,100 jobs. The numbers and methodology are both suspect and attracted a fair amount of criticism.
The second report, by sister lobbying organisation the Australian Content Industry Group, was based on the flawed TERA report from Europe and applied those numbers to the Australian economy. They took a little poetic license in making the assumption that the rollout of Australia's National Broadband Network would increase internet speed and penetration and thus lead to more piracy. The result, of course, would be billions lost to the economy and 8,000 jobs gone.
Both of these studies indulge the bizarre conceit that any movie ticket sales forfeited due to piracy represent a net loss to the economy. Of course, this isn't so; and in a country like Australia, a net importer of content, the opposite is likely to be true, as the money is likely to be spent on goods or services more efficient at creating employment locally. Nevertheless, these reports are getting into the hands of the media and lawmakers, and used as ammunition in the fight for tighter laws.
As if that wasn't enough, we face increasing pressure on the diplomatic front. Significant, and regressive, changes were made to Australian copyright law as a result of the Australia-US free trade agreement, including the outlawing of circumventing technological protections measures (TPM) such as DRM schemes. This pressure has kept up, with negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership burdened by the usual demands from the copyright lobby: longer terms, criminalising infringement, and statutory penalties.
Like our counterparts at ORG and many organisations around the world, we here at Electronic Frontiers Australia feel that the debate around copyright long ago derailed. The discussion is almost always about the evils of piracy, which is perfectly legitimate when put in proper perspective. But what we really want to see is a broader discussion that takes into account the wider benefits to society and artists that copyright is designed to bring. Ever-longer copyright terms and tougher penalties come at a cost to consumers and artists who now need legal advice every time they create a new work.
We're doing our best to reframe the debate so that Australian consumers have a voice.
Image: CC-AT Flickr: aussiegall
Ian Clark looks at the future accessibility to information in light of net neutrality & library closures
Towards the end of last year, Ed Vaizey addressed a telecommunications conference in London organised by the Financial Times. In his address, he pointedly failed to give his support for ‘net neutrality’. In fact, although he has denied it, it would appear that he supports scrapping it altogether. In a section of the speech on ‘net neutrality’, Vaizey commented:
“Consumers should always have the ability to access any legal content or service. Content and service providers should have the ability to innovate and, most importantly, to reach end users … This could include the evolution of a two-sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service.”
The Guardian goes on to state:
The comments sparked a furore as his words were seen as allowing a two-tier internet in which companies would have to pay to get their content to arrive in timely fashion – a complaint that Erik Huggers of the BBC made last month over the corporation’s iPlayer catchup service.
There’s a phrase that should strike fear in any information professional: “two-tier internet”. 'Two-tier’ inevitably means unequal and, consequently, entrenching a divide between those that can access the top tier and those that can’t. But before going any further, what is ‘net neutrality’?
Net neutrality is this: If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level. That’s all. It's up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens. Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free. Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn’t pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will.
Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that companies control what I can access for commercial reasons. (In China, control is by the government for political reasons.) There is a very strong short-term incentive for a company to grab control of TV distribution over the internet even though it is against the long-term interests of the industry.
Let’s see whether the United States is capable as acting according to its important values, or whether it is, as so many people are saying, run by the misguided short-term interested of large corporations.
As Berners-Lee suggests, abandoning ‘net neutrality’ could lead to very real dangers in terms of the control of information. At present the flow of information is neither controlled by the state (as it is in China) or by corporate interests. The removal of ‘net neutrality’ would change this, leading to corporations controlling access to information – a worrying prospect.
Over in the US, the debate over net neutrality has been waging for some time. Democratic Senator Al Franken has been particularly vocal in defending the principles of neutrality. As one US blogger puts it:
Net neutrality is, of course, the exact opposite of the freedom-trampling “government takeover” as it is tarred by opponents in the capital. Net neutrality is internet freedom, not its adversary. The doctrine is designed to protect consumers’ rights to access information that is unfiltered and unrestricted by telecommunications companies that stand to profit from what could constitute, come to think of it, a “corporate takeover of the internet”.
“The only freedom they are providing for,” Democratic Senator Al Franken and several colleagues snapped back at Republicans in a recent letter, “is the freedom of telephone and cable companies to determine the future of the internet, where you can go on it, what you can attach to it, and which services will win or lose on it.”
The removal of ‘net neutrality’ could do very real damage to both the internet as we know it today and seriously impact on the consumer’s ability to access information. If ISPs are able to discriminate the flow of content there could be very serious consequences and it would undoubtedly be, as the ALA recently put it, ‘a severe violation of intellectual freedom’. Take these examples from The Nation:
Imagine how the next presidential election would unfold if major political advertisers could make strategic payments to Comcast so that ads from Democratic and Republican candidates were more visible and user-friendly than ads of third-party candidates with less funds. Consider what would happen if an online advertisement promoting nuclear power prominently popped up on a cable broadband page, while a competing message from an environmental group was relegated to the margins. It is possible that all forms of civic and noncommercial online programming would be pushed to the end of a commercial digital queue.
This is an even greater consideration in the UK where there are three main political parties and a number of smaller parties that are growing in popularity. How would the Greens and UKIP, for example, be able to compete if ISPs discriminate against them and in favour of the main political parties? And if they are able to discriminate, how will we be able to ensure that the consumer receives a range of information rather than just that which is ‘approved’ by the ISP?
As I mentioned above, the effect of a ‘two-tier’ internet should have very real concerns for all information professionals. The ALA made their concerns clear in 2006:
First, Network Neutrality is an intellectual freedom issue. The ALA defines intellectual freedom as the right of all people to seek and receive information from all points of view, without restriction. Unfortunately, there is no law that protects intellectual freedom on the internet today. Internet service providers (such as the cable and telephone companies) have the ability to block or degrade information or services travelling over their networks. If these companies discriminate against certain kinds of information based on the content of the message being delivered, this would represent a severe violation of intellectual freedom.
Second, Network Neutrality is a competition issue. Libraries in the digital age are providers of online information of all kinds. Among hundreds of examples, public libraries are developing online local history resources, and academic libraries allow the online public to explore some of their rarest treasures. Libraries, as trusted providers of free public access to information, should not compete for priority with for-profit history or literature web sites that might be able to afford to strike deals with service providers. This makes the Network Neutrality debate not only a matter of philosophy and values for librarians, but also of livelihood.
Couple this with some local authorities’ eagerness to close public libraries, and it is clear there are problems ahead. One of the arguments against the need for a network of public libraries is that we ‘all’ have access to the internet (of course we don’t but that doesn’t fit the narrative). This is all well and good at present, but with ‘net neutrality’ under attack and an increasing amount of content being locked behind paywalls, it won’t be long before we find that the internet as we know it is but a distant memory.
This is, again, yet another reason why libraries and information professionals are so important. Librarians do not (or at least should not) discriminate on the information they provide their users. If, for example, a customer visited the library and requested a book on ‘Islamic terrorism’ a librarian would (provided both texts are available of course!) lead you to a copy of both ‘Al Qaeda‘ by Jason Burke and ‘Londonistan‘ by Melanie Phillips and allow the user to decide which one is appropriate for them (the former hopefully!).
It may seem insignificant, but if the information professional were to behave as an ISP ‘unburdened’ by ‘net neutrality’, you would be presented with one or the other, potentially without even being aware that the other was available. Imagine an information space where access to information was subject to vested interests. Librarians do not have vested interests, they simply point you to a range of information resources and allow you to decide which is suitable.
Imagine, for a moment, that there are no public libraries and net neutrality is a thing of the past. Imagine what the implications are for access to information. Imagine the impact that this would have on our democracy. Imagine the impact that this would have on society and how it would reinforce the gap between the richest and the poorest.
Sure, you may not think libraries are that important when you have the whole of the world-wide web at your finger tips. But once paywalls are common place and ISPs are able to discriminate content, you may just realise what you’ve lost. And don’t be fooled into thinking this is a far-fetched fantasy. We are only a short step away from this eventuality. Information has been commodified, once there is money to be made it won’t remain free and open for long.
Image: CC-AT-SA Flickr: fboyd
A proposal from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission raises severe privacy concerns
The city of San Francisco has a long history of political activism and cultural diversity, which could be in danger if the San Francisco Entertainment Commission has their way. The Electronic Frontier Foundation joined civil liberties and privacy groups in criticizing a proposal from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission that would require all venues with an occupancy of over 100 people to record the faces of all patrons and employees and scan their ID's for storage in a database which they must hand over to law enforcement on request.
If adopted, these rules would pose a grave threat to the rights of freedom of association, due process, and privacy in San Francisco.
Events with strong cultural, ideological, and political components are frequently held at venues that would be affected by these rules. Scanning the ID's of all attendees at an anti-war rally, a gay night club, or a fundraiser for a civil liberties organization would have a deeply chilling effect on speech. Participants might hesitate to attend such events if their attendance were noted, stored, and made available on request to government authorities.
This would transform the politically and culturally tolerant environment for which San Francisco is famous into a police state. We are deeply disappointed in the San Francisco Entertainment Commission for considering such troubling, authoritarian, and poorly thought-out rules.
The Commission should reject this attack on our most basic civil liberties. San Francisco cannot hope to remain a hub of cultural and political activity if we are stripped of our civil liberties the moment we walk through the door of a venue.
By Eva Galperi. This article originally appeared here and is licensed under CC-BY 3.0
Image: CC-AT Flickr: http2007
As the Harry Potter series looks to be heading to ebooks, Wendy Grossman looks at potential drawbacks to the growth of the ebook market
JK Rowling is seriously considering releasing the Harry Potter novels as ebooks, while Amanda Hocking, who's sold a million or so ebooks has signed a $2 million contract with St. Martin's Press, in the same week. It's hard not to conclude that ebooks are finally coming of age. And in many ways this is a good thing.
The economy surrounding the Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and other such devices is allowing more than one writer to find an audience for works that mainstream publishers might have ignored. I do think hard work and talent will usually out, and it's hard to believe that Hocking would not have found herself a good career as a writer via the usual routine of looking for agents and publishers. She would very likely have many fewer books published at this point, and probably wouldn't be in possession of the $2 million it's estimated she's made from ebook sales.
On the other hand, assuming she had made at least a couple of book sales by now, she might be much more famous: her blog posting explaining her decision notes that a key factor is that she gets a steady stream of complaints from would-be readers that they can't buy her books in stores. She expects to lose money on the St. Martin's deal compared to what she'd make from self-publishing the same titles.
To fans of disintermediation, of doing away with gatekeepers and middle men and allowing artists to control their own fates and interact directly with their audiences, Hocking is a self-made hero.
And yet…the future of ebooks may not be so simply rosy.
This might be the moment to stop and suggest reading a little background on book publishing from the smartest author I know on the topic, science fiction writer Charlie Stross. In a series of blog postings he's covered common misconceptions about publishing, why the Kindle's 2009 UK launch was bad news for writers, and misconceptions about ebooks. One of Stross's central points: epublishing platforms are not owned by publishers but by consumer electronics companies – Apple, Sony, Amazon.
If there's one thing we know about the net and electronic media generally it's that when the audience for any particular new medium – Usenet, email, blogs, social networks – gets to be a certain size it attracts abuse. It's for this reason that every so often I argue that the internet does not scale well.
In a fascinating posting on Patrick and Theresa Nielsen-Hayden's blog Making Light, Jim Macdonald notes the case of Canadian author S K S Perry, who has been blogging on LiveJournal about his travails with a thief. Perry, having had no luck finding a publisher for his novel Darkside, had posted it for free on his web site, where a thief copied it and issued a Kindle edition.
Macdonald links this sorry tale (which seems now to have reached a happy-enough ending) with postings from Laura Hazard Owen and Mike Essex that predict a near future in which we are awash in recycled ebook…spam. As all three of these writers point out, there is no system in place to do the kind of copyright/plagiarism checking that many schools have implemented. The costs are low; the potential for recycling content vast; and the ease of gaming the ratings system extraordinary. And either way, the ebook retailer makes money.
Macdonald's posting primarily considers this future with respect to the challenge for authors to be successful*: how will good books find audiences if they're tiny islands adrift in a sea of similar-sounding knock-offs and crap? A situation like that could send us all scurrying back into the arms of people who publish on paper. That wouldn’t bother Amazon-the-bookseller; Apple and others without a stake in paper publishing are likely to care more (and promising authors and readers due care and diligence might help them build a better, differentiated ebook business).
There is a mythology that those who – like the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the Open Rights Group - oppose the extension and tightening of copyright are against copyright. This is not the case: very few people want to do away with copyright altogether. What most campaigners in this area want is a fairer deal for all concerned.
This week the issue of term extension for sound recordings in the EU revived when Denmark changed tack and announced it would support the proposals. It's long been my contention that musicians would be better served by changes in the law that would eliminate some of the less fair terms of typical contracts, that would provide for the reversion of rights to musicians when their music goes out of commercial availability, and that would alter the balance of power, even if only slightly, in favor of the musicians.
This dystopian projected future for ebooks is a similar case. It is possible to be for paying artists and even publishers and still be against the imposition of DRM and the demonization of new technologies. This moment, where ebooks are starting to kick into high gear, is the time to find better ways to help authors.
*Successful: an author who makes enough money from writing books to continue writing books.
Loz Kaye speaks to us about Wikileaks, the Digital Economy Act, privacy and the future
For those that don't know, what is the Pirate Party UK and how did it come about?
Pirate Party UK is a political party founded to protect digital rights, to press for intellectual property reform, stand up for privacy of the individual and to defend freedom of speech. It is our aim to set digital policy right at the heart of of British politics where it belongs. We want to see an end to laws that hound individuals, we want to see a country where government is truly open and accountable, and where technology is embraced rather than feared.
We were inspired by the success of the Swedish Pirate Party, where the movement for a web-user friendly political force began. Their winning of representation in the European parliament was truly a significant shift in politics. Already there are over 40 Pirate Parties worldwide, from Canada to Morocco, from Serbia to New Zealand.
In 2009 it became evident that there were major political threats to civil liberties and internet freedom that no-one in the mainstream were willing to oppose in a concerted way, most obviously the Digital Economy Act. It was clear then that there was a burning need for a British Pirate Party and I remain convinced that we are needed more than ever.
On net neutrality, why shouldn't ISPs have the right to offer different packages to consumers? If I don't access sites which use a lot of bandwidth, why should I have to pay for it?
As Tim Berners-Lee always points out net neutrality is at the heart of what the net is. It is about the free flow of information, that benefits us socially, culturally and economically. We would not put up with such proposals from other service providers. Imagine an electricity-lite for the poor that resulted in blackouts for half the day because they could not pay enough to guarantee the supply. Or a telephone service where you get a crackly, almost inaudible line to Joe's pizza, but an excellent connection to Dominos.
I am very concerned that any move to erode net neutrality could also undermine democracy. A scenario where Sky fully controls BSkyB, and delivers a Fox style news, while restricting access to the BBC is not at all far fetched. At the end of the day this is actually an infrastructure question rather than a consumer choice question. This would not even be considered a serious issue if we had the fibre we deserve, rather than indifferent copper we have.
I have a huge sympathy for ISPs. It seems that the government is expecting them to be copyright enforcers, moral guardians, catalysts for economic growth, or whatever latest kneejerk reaction they are having. We must let them get back to the core of their business, delivering packets without needless obstruction.
How optimistic are you that parliament will learn its lesson from the Digital Economy Act?
The judicial review has shown the deep problems of the Digital Economy Act. The very wording has been shown to be flawed. At the time it was rushed through in the dying days of the most discredited parliament in living memory, we in Pirate Party UK warned that it was a mistake. It gives us no pleasure to say we told you so. But, we told you so. Whatever the result of the judicial review, it is now clear that the Digital Economy Act is now a lame duck piece of legislation.
The lessons to be learnt should be- firstly this is not the way to help artists make a living, and secondly it makes no sense to target individuals through an IP address. Aggressive copyright enforcement is simply not the main way that most artists make their living. Also, no credible evidence has been given to demonstrate any link between taking down 'pirate' sites and a boost in artists' income.
I am not optimistic that parliament will learn much in the short term. It is worth remembering that MPs are generalists and subject to a party whip. They are also bombarded daily with petitions and pleas. Even I, despite a currently minor political role, get targeted with an extraordinary range of requests from solving local parking problems to saving the political crisis in Belgium. The best advice I can give your readers is to write to politicians directly rather than petitioning, and do a follow up call or meet.
What do you make of the national and international response to Wikileaks?
Wikileaks has overwhelmingly been a force in the public interest. It has exposed the rotten core of so many of our representatives, be they politicians, generals or ambassadors. It has shown how the British parliament was mislead over cluster bombs. It has laid bare unpalatable truths about the Iraq war, including showing 1000s of unreported civilian deaths. It has shown how successive Secretaries of State have presided over spying on UN officials.
Perhaps most striking of all it has shown how the internet can be a tool to empower citizens. By placing raw information out there, we all have the opportunity to become journalists and active citizens. It is worth pointing out that we are the only party that has been consistent and outspoken in our support for Wikileaks. In fact we were probably the only party that knew it even existed a year ago.
I am profoundly shocked at some of the international reaction. Most striking are the various calls from mainstream American politicians for the assassination of Assange, Sarah Palin wants him 'hunted down', even Joe Biden likened him to a "hi-tech terrorist". Equally, I am amazed by the silence and impotence of our national politicians. Everyone from the Conservatives to the Greens have been afraid to stand up for the right to blow the whistle, leaving me to be the only leader to go on the BBC and talk about this subject.
It has been depressing to see how much effort it has taken to get anyone to pay attention to the case of joint US/UK citizen Bradley Manning. He has been under military arrest for over 300 days now, in conditions which can only be compared to Guantanamo bay, accused of passing documents to Wikileaks. One of the chilling developments has been the capital charges of 'aiding the enemy' leveled at Bradley Manning.
If, and I emphasize if, Bradley Manning is guilty of aiding the enemy, then surely so is Wikileaks. And by extension so are the Guardian and the New York Times. So are Pirate Party Switzerland for hosting the wikileaks.ch mirror, and PP Sweden for allowing Wikileaks server space. So are all of us who support a more open democracy.
How concerned are you by the possibility of new web blocking powers?
The coalition's threat to bring in web blocking has the potential to be an even worse abuse of civil liberties than Labour's Digital Economy Act. The proposal for a self-regulatory approach to online copyright enforcement is just warm words covering extra-judicial censorship. Not only is it a full on attack on freedom of information, but it is of course ineffective. Or perhaps Jeremy Hunt is unaware that the internet is indeed a net, and there can be no Great British Firewall.
The use of the Internet Watch Foundation, set up as it is to deal with child abuse images, as a template is profoundly worrying. It ought to be obvious that measures to do with the abuse of young people and anything to do with copyright are wholly different areas. The opportunistic attempt to exploit child protection is entirely immoral in my view.
It seems that the government are conceding that the Digital Economy Act will not come in to force any time soon, if ever. So they are under new pressure from the content providing lobby to adopt new measures. But we should not be made to pay for this shoddy law-giving, or its anti-democratic pushing through the fag end of the last parliament.
It is worth pointing out that there is nothing concrete on the table right now, which makes opposition difficult. But we must not hand web-blocking powers to government or to an unelected quango. Ed Vaizey's comments already demonstrate that once a precedent like the IWF is set, that the powers that be start to use them in other areas, leading to a slippery slope towards the undoing of the kind of internet that we have come to prize.
Are your proposed patent reform & copyright reform plans just pipe-dreams, given the influence & resources of those who would oppose such reforms?
There have been points in our history where ideas such as votes for women or civil partnerships have seemed like pipe-dreams. What has mattered is that people have stood up for what is just.
While our patent and copyright reform plans are radical, I do not think that they are unachievable. We want to bring in a right to non-commercial file-sharing. We want to stop the paying of the dead, and curtail copyright to 10 years from the creation of a work. We want to promote open source software by giving it 10 years of protection as opposed to 5 years for closed source.
Even IP lawyers both privately and publicly have expressed support for our proposals. Millions of people every day demonstrate that current intellectual property law is not fit for purpose by burning CDs, format shifting, file sharing, making mashups. Some people even make mix-tapes still, yet strangely enough music has not died.
It is well known that the BPI, RIAA, IFPI and the rest of the alphabet soup of the copyright industry use a huge amount of effort and money defending the outmoded business models that serve them. If only they had used a fraction of those resources lobbying government to reconsider the swingeing arts funding cuts which constitute a real threat to the incomes of creatives.
If only the money spent on the 5 barristers for the defence at the Digital Economy Act judicial review had been used to nurture young composers and bands.
What is remarkable is that despite all the cash they throw around, the lobbyists have been surprisingly ineffectual in achieving their goals. People continue to act like "pirates", despite the dire warnings so appositely satirised in the IT crowd. In fact these groups are beginning to overreach themselves, and their actions are being called in to question.
We can see this for example in the dropping of the case against FileSoup. The reason for this was that the Federation Against Copyright Theft had in essence acted as victims, police and prosecutors in the case. The CPS dropped the action after it was revealed that no proper evidence of copyright infringement could be shown. This was not before considerable cost to the tax-payer I might add.
Cases like this indicate what Rick Falkvinge, Pirate Party Sweden founder, has called "a change in the wind"- the first signs that a major shift of perception is starting to happen.
Does the draft Defamation Bill go far enough?
There is plenty about our legal system that leaves much to be desired, from super injunctions and hyper injunctions, to the whole sorry process that brought us the "twitter joke trial". The prospect of libel action has begun to threaten journalism and scientific research. We can not have a situation where scientists are nervous to present their findings or to challenge obvious quackery. This bill is essentially the test of the axis of the sceptical which includes so many of our members, regardless of religion or lack thereof.
Any bill with a foreword that begins "The right to freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our constitution", is a good start, despite the fact that we do not have a properly articulated constitution. Clearly the move to stop libel tourism is a good thing, as it has been a source of injustice and frankly an embarrassment to our country. On a technical level the simplification of honest opinion and truth as defences is a welcome move, as is restricting cases to those involving substantial harm.
Our major reservation is that it does not restrict the huge money in defamation lawsuits. This has been the driving force behind so much libel action, and the scandal that litigation around reputation has been more profitable than real injuries.
With companies such as Google & Facebook being such a huge part of many people's online experience, but at the same time amongst the worst when it comes to abusing privacy, do enough people care about their privacy to change it?
As things stand most ordinary people do not perceive a threat. It's hard enough for 'mobile phone alarm Britain' to just deal with every day - work, kids, cleaning, bills, let alone trying to figure out the implications of whatever Zuckerberg does today on their private lives. I think it's fair to say that the majority want the internet and social media as a background service that just functions- like electricity or mobile phones. Nevertheless, when you explain to most peole that their personal data is at risk of being exploited, they are horrified.
Facebook protest at every turn that they are concerned, Micheal Richter, Facebook's chief privacy counsel is quoted as saying "Facebook care about privacy". Yet constantly the default seems to be for exploitation rather than protection. For example there was a recent decision to allow third party developers access to telephone numbers. While sites are advertising privacy policies and statements, the plain truth is precious few people read them, and are willing to sign away their rights precisely because of the huge part large companies play in most people's online experiences.
We want to bring in rights to private and confidential communication, and the right to encrypt data. As a party we fundamentally opposed to the creeping erosion of our personal life that we are experiencing currently. It is particularly our job to explain the dangers to a wider public. That is one of the joys and the challenges in standing for election, it forces you to move outside the echo chamber of the web and social media.
How long do you think it will take for the PPUK to have someone elected to a significant position of public power, such as Westminster or the European parliament?
The only thing one can predict about politics is its unpredictability. We regularly consult with the Swedes and Germans who are out ahead of us in terms of time they have been organised and their resources. Both are now clear electoral forces, with the PP Deutschland no longer being one of the 'others' on bar charts. I am particularly pleased that they are now consistently beating the far right, and have just won 31 seats in local elections in Hesse. They are both an inspiration, and proof that success is possible.
However, the UK's antiquated first past the post voting system does make it harder for us to break through. On the doorstep and in the chat rooms people say they like what we stand for, but can't vote for us because they don't want to let the Tories in, or a myriad of other tactical considerations.
This is why we are supporting a Yes vote in the up coming AV referendum. It will free people up to actually vote for candidates they believe in, rather than second guessing tactics. Overall it will be a good thing for ORG, as it will be possible to rate candidates from various parties higher if they show a willingness to listen to the digital agenda.
All we need in the short term is even one result where we outperform expectations. The Germans observed that once they started having success it sharpened up the other parties' stances on digital issues. I am looking forward to the next round of elections where we are fielding excellent candidates for the Scottish parliament and for local councils.
As a political party, you are in direct competition with the very parties you are trying to influence when it comes to digital rights. How do you make sure you are being heard?
Currently, I do not see us as being in competition with any other parties in the digital rights arena, because no other British parties acknowledge there is such a concept as digital rights. As I say, one of the goals should be to force them to have a coherent approach to the digital arena.
There may be individual MPs who are willing to speak out, like Tom Watson or Julian Huppert, but they will face a struggle to define policy creation in their party. It is hugely frustrating that as a rule politicians don't seem to "get" the Internet and the cultural arena. We exist to provide candidates and activists who do.
Being a political party with a very distinctive stance on intellectual property and digital policy means that we can break through in to the media.
Far from worrying about being heard, my worry is that I never shut up! Since taking over as leader there has never been a week for me without interviews for print, radio and TV. I think producers have realised that we are refreshingly free from the bland statements and spin of the mainstream. Of course our aim is to use the web better than other parties. It was pleasing to be declared the social media winner of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Yes, I would have rather won the seat, but it is a victory in an arena that is important to us.
What do you say to those who are sympathetic to what PPUK stands for, but unwilling to support the party out-right due to a lack of knowledge on where you stand on other key issues such as foreign policy, crime and the NHS?
In the first stages of developing PPUK it has been vital to have a clearly focussed manifesto, so that there can be no doubt that what we have to offer is something different to other parties. Also what matters at the end of the day is action, not PR and manifestos. Just look at the Liberal Democrats.
How I see the next stage of our policy development is emphasising our approach affects all areas of our public life. Concerned about the NHS? Then we need to stop subsidising pharmaceutical companies' profits and marketing budgets through the patent system. Concerned about crime? Then we should stop wasting money on ineffective and intrusive CCTV. Concerned about foreign policy? Then we need to support transparency in our international affairs, and stand up for whistle blowers, not condemn them.
One of the things that is different about us as a party is that we do not have a whip, we encourage discussion, listening and debate. While we have clear core values, we are not afraid of different nuances. I do not see that as a weakness, but as a strength. At the end of the day anyone elected for PPUK would be first and foremost responsible to their constituents, not to our party, or me.
We are as yet a young party, but one with a great deal of energy given that we have already contested a General Election and gathered a great deal of media focus in our short life to date. This is the ideal time to get involved and shape the future direction of Pirate Party UK. One thing you can count on going forward is that the only way that you can guarantee having a politician sympathetic to ORG's goals is to vote for a PPUK candidate.
Loz Kaye - Leader Pirate Party UK
Image: CC-AT Flickr: Tim Dobson
Another sign that the music industry is living in la-la land, by Milena Popova
The long legal struggle on the part of the music industry to kill yet another P2P filesharing platform - LimeWire is slowly coming to an end. In May last year, Judge Kimba Wood at the Manhattan Federal District Court ruled that LimeWire and its founder Mark Gorton were liable for copyright infringement and inducement to copyright infringement. In October last year, the court ordered LimeWire to stop distributing its software. Over the next few months, the trial will continue to determine the damages due to the 13 suing record companies.
However, even Judge Wood believes that the damages demanded by the record companies are “absurd”. Let’s put the $75 trillion into perspective:
- As well as being five times the US national debt, $75 trillion is more than the revenues of the entire recording industry since the invention of the phonograph in 1877.
- It would be roughly equivalent to every person on the planet having pirated $10,800 worth of music. Yes, that includes the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, for whom medicine, new clothing and school books would not be on the priority list, let alone the technology required to pirate music.
- And my personal favourite, at 4MB and $1 per song, $75 trillion equates to roughly 255 exabytes of storage - about the same amount of data we had globally in 2007.
Absurd doesn’t even begin to cover it. Of course the $75 trillion question is whether shutting down LimeWire will actually have any positive impact on record sales. Past experience would suggest that that’s unlikely. After all, if shutting down Napster had stopped piracy and increased record sales, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about LimeWire, now would we? The LimeWire case is even more hopeless, as filesharers learned from the Napster shutdown.
Unlike Napster, which was software, network and protocol all in one, LimeWire is only a front end for the Gnutella network protocol. Gnutella was specifically designed to be decentralised, reasonably anonymous, and immune to a Napster-like central shutdown.
While the commercial version of LimeWire is no longer distributed, and users of version 5.5.11 and higher have found their software disabled by a back door, lower versions still work just fine, and other clients, including a “Pirate Edition” of LimeWire called WireShare, are also available.
Having said all this, market research group NPD does report a 43% decrease in file sharing in the US in the last quarter of 2010. Techdirt points out that even if those numbers are conclusive (which is unlikely), we will probably not see a corresponding dramatic rise in record sales for the same quarter.
This is partly because many LimeWire users used the application more as a “radio replacement” than as a way of obtaining music. It would, therefore, be interesting to see what the impact of the LimeWire shutdown was in Europe, where the “radio” market it pretty much owned by services like Spotify, which are not available in America
I have recently been watching Looney Tunes (on a legally purchased DVD no less!), and the music industry’s continued attempts to shut down filesharing technologies remind me of nothing so much as Wile E. Coyote’s attempts to catch the Road Runner.
One would think that after more than ten years of failure, the industry would finally realise all it will achieve is to splat itself against yet another rock, and that maybe it would be more productive to focus on other activities. Reaching out to fans and offering quality services and products people are actually willing to pay for would be a start. When even the judge who’s just ruled in your favour calls you absurd, it’s perhaps time to fire the ACME lawyers and think again. Meep-meep!
Milena is an economics & politics graduate, an IT manager, and a campaigner for digital rights, electoral reform and women's rights. She tweets as @elmyra
Image: CC-AT-NC Flickr: thinkpanama
Simon Hunter-Williams gives his perspective on censorship in South Korea
Reporters Without Borders marked 'World day against Cyber Censorship 2011' with their annual report on internet censorship. They identified states as "Enemies of the internet" for the worst offenders, and "Countries under surveillance" for those states which have displayed worrying behaviour online. As well as identifying the usual suspects - Burma, China & Saudi Arabia, it also casts a glance towards democratic countries that include Australia and France.
Repressive regimes resort to all sorts of measures to control content, ranging from censorship, jailing cyber-dissidents and circulating massive amounts of propaganda online. Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said;
"Around 60 countries censor the Internet to varying degrees and harass netizens. At least 119 people are currently in prison just for using the Internet to express their views freely. These are disturbing figures and a good reason for each reader to be aware that there is something going on beyond the surface of the internet."
North Korea is also listed as an 'enemy of the internet', and is arguably the worst offender in the world. Internet availability is limited to just 4% of the total population and is heavily censored.
Like all North Korean media, the internet is under government control. As most Northern Koreans can't legally access the internet, many are now going through the black market, notably by using mobile phones imported from China. There remains a nationwide ban on mobile phone use since May 2004.
So, I find myself living in North Korea's neighbour, South Korea, in the capital Seoul - home to some ten million residents. However, I am little surprised that South Korea is mentioned in the Reporters without Borders report and is listed as 'under surveillance' for its 'draconian censorship'.
South Korea is known throughout the world for fast internet. OpenNet reports that 77% of South Koreans aged six and older use the internet – way ahead of America. It is a country that runs 24 hours (New York – you really aren't a 24 hour city!).
The internet is available in nearly every spot and is equally as fast, more than 90% of households use broadband – and – luckily it is not just about the buck, there are plenty of free internet spots which I found rare in London, Brussels, Paris, Sydney, New York and Tel Aviv.
As a general computer user, I rarely find that I am blocked from reading material online – save a few articles from YNet News (an Israeli news site) but that could well be a school filter. I do not as yet have internet at home, nor do I plan to due to the wide availability of the internet in public places.
I will not need to comply with strict regulations which require passport identification for internet subscription, I will no doubt be monitored but I will not have the chains implied by my service provider having my personal details at hand with such ease. Instead, I will enjoy coffee!
The South Korean government's agenda around internet usage seems politically motivated, intrigued in close monitoring of people's participation in speech, and morals to a larger extent. The constitution (article 21) ensures 'all citizens shall enjoy freedom of speechand press' whilst 'neither speech nor the press shall violate the honor or rights of other persons nor undermine public morals or social ethics' - therefore, the constitution is somewhat vague!
What is clear is that they are seeking to monitor people wanting to engage in discourse on political activities - whether that be elections, North Korea or simply an interest in pornography or gambling. The end user will be greeted only by 'This site is legally blocked by government regulations' (view for yourself here).
To 'disseminate false news intended to damage the public interest' in South Korea is also prohibited, one of the major sources of concern highlighted in the report.
Back in 2007, a handful of bloggers were censored after expressing criticism and support for presidential candidates, some were arrested. Then in 2009, legislation was introduced that ordered all internet portals to require identification for subscription to the internet.
This extends to foreigners who would need to provide a passport, as foreigners working in South Korea are required to hold an Alien card (which gives them similar abilities to residents of South Korea when holding a card – the ability to join a gym, to have a mobile phone – this is a country where plastic enables you to have your rights).
Why has this happened? This is a very traditional country. The people tend to just follow the norm, they tend not to think outside of the box and it is a very collective community. People seem to be content and ready to develop their own skills to serve their country. This would seem a clear reason for the lack of a critical or even revolutionary energy, because it is so easy to manipulate and monitor the people, the ship runs well so who would want to sink it?
This is a country that is trying to protect its traditional heritage in an ever-evolving world, it feels the need to keep people in check in order to counter the powerful enlightenment offered by the Western value system. Instead they are taking Western ideology and making it their own, merging the cultures on their terms.
So if we are looking from the angle of protecting heritage, then it is not an enemy of the internet, it just doesn't want the Korean identity to be put into the history books.
South Korea is a world leader, a great country to live in. Freedom on the surface seems to exist but inside cyberspace the chains are more evident. Many a conversation with local Koreans would suggest that they will stick with the status-quo, the government will do what it does, the corporate world that allegedly runs the show behind the government will maintain their strength and the people will happily follow – because it is the right thing. People believe in their country, and the country's progression is their own progression.
Simon Hunter-Williams is a freelance journalist and photographer. He is currently based in Seoul, South Korea and works as an English teacher
As the music and technology industries square up once more, Milena Popova looks at the implications it could have on the Hargreaves review
Earlier this month, Jon Bon Jovi accused Steve Jobs of killing the music industry . (I would link to the original source but it's behind the Times paywall, so I'll save you the hassle). The same day, I came across this article on PaidContent.org, a website covering "the economics of digital content".
It looks at the proposed review of copyright law in the UK, and some of the key vested interests involved. Representatives of the music industry in particular, such as Fergal Sharkey, are attacking the government's fledgling plans for copyright reform - and not because they're afraid of "piracy" but because they are afraid of Google and the technology industry in general. Says the article
Feargal Sharkey, the chief executive of UK Music, argues that under the current copyright law, legal music download "startups" are flourishing, with 72 competing sites generating £350 million in sales last year. He warns of the danger of taking "50,000 jobs from the music industry to create 20,000 in technology". 
Watching the music and technology industries rip large chunks out of each other in the press is mildly amusing, but it is also worrying. It makes me wonder to what extent the ongoing Hargreaves Review of the UK's intellectual property framework, the evidence-gathering for which finished earlier this month and to which the Open Rights Group submitted a contribution, is likely to end up as a fight between giants in the playground.
This could lead to those with vested interests, like the content and technology industries, having a disproportionate amount of influence.
The Register doesn't miss an opportunity to live up to its tagline ("Biting the hand that feeds IT"). It goes through Google's submission to the Hargreaves Review with a fine-toothed comb, typos and all. It does point out some striking parallels between Google's report and the Prime Minister's speech launching the Review.
Echoing Prime Minister David Cameron echoing Google, we learn that: "If the UK and EU regime were to be reformed in order to better support innovation, some aspects of the US regime would be a good starting point for examination."
Word-for-word, that's exactly what the Prime Minister said when he launched the review, and gave Hargreaves his orders.
In the face of this onslaught from large industries and multinational companies, it won't be easy for the Hargreaves Review and the government to keep us ordinary citizens and consumers at the forefront of their minds. ORG has called primarily for more research and data on the subject of the impact of copyright and the IP framework on the economy.
Additionally, it has called for more consumer protection, including no further extension of copyright terms, ensuring that contracts like End User Licensing Agreements don't undermine copyright policy, and the implementation of copyright exceptions in the style of the US "fair use" provisions.
While some of this is fairly similar to what Google is asking for it is important to remember that it is only coincidence that Google's interests somewhat overlap with consumer interests in this matter. In areas where they don't overlap, Google will not hesitate to promote its own interest over that of consumers.
While the Hargreaves Review is now closed for evidence submissions, this is not the last we have heard on the subject - in fact it is only the beginning. Sooner or later this issue will make its way to Parliament in the form of legislation, and the Open Rights Group and all of us as individuals and consumers need to be ready to educate our legislators and help them get this right. Let's not let this become another Digital Economy Act, with four lobbyists to every MP.
 Feel free to take the sanity of Jon Bon Jovi and Fergal Sharkey's opinions apart in the comments.
Milena is an economics & politics graduate, an IT manager, and a campaigner for digital rights, electoral reform and women's rights. She tweets as @elmyra
Wendy M. Grossman responds to "loopy" statements made by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in regards to censorship and encryption.
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