Sunday, 29 November 2009

File under procrastination...

I'm meant to be writing or marking. It's the weekend and I can't find the motivation to do either. Instead, I'll play with Twitter and Tweetcloud and make up a nice tag cloud based on the last 12 months worth of tweets

Here's the list of words tagged in order of the most frequently used:
media iphone time greader music students feed free google post week piracy found apple copyright news blog newcastle industry thanks people digital please watching reader facebook nice paper social looking email little internet start looks sunderland lost read future live online trying bought users currently change getting wife games journalism guardian pirate version believe marking look season site help hours

Friday, 27 November 2009

Children of the net..

I was recently reading a blog post by Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at the Berkmen Centre for Internet and Society, which got me thinking. I normally like what Ethan has to say and I encourage you to check out his site which touches on his thoughts about 'Africa, international development and hacking the media'. In the blog post he talks a conference he attended in which Don Tapscott (co-author) of Wikinomics fame presented.

Essentially, the blog post summarises Tapscott's major argument in the book, something I've touched on in the course of teaching my Cyberculture (MAC281) and New Media & Society (MAC309) modules. I've mentioned him a couple of times on this blog. For those of you unfamiliar with the thrust of the main argument it goes something like this...

Tapscott watched his kids grow up in the 1990s and was amazed by the effortless way in which they used technology. The demographic born between 1977 and 1996 was the first to 'grow up in a digital age ... bathed in bits' (2008: 47), which Tapscott refers to as the Net Generation. This generation is distinct from previous ones due to the myriad ways in which they not only consume media, but scrutinise it, and re-purpose it. In Zuckerman's blog recounting Tapscott's presentation, the latter claims that the kids of this generation are more interested in reading web content rather than reading books (he cites Rhodes scholar, Joe O'Shea, as an example) or watching television.
We might conclude this is a problem, or we might embrace this. “If you spend 24 hours a week being a passive participant, consuming tv – as Baby Boomers did – you get a certain sort of brain.” If you spend those hours searching, researching and building connections, you get a very different brain
I feel Tapscott sets up a bit of a false argument here, which Zuckerman reiterates (nb: I'm not trying to suggest that Zukerman thinks this - he is recounting Tapscott). He claims these are not passive consumers but rather, are driven by a desire 'for choice, convenience, customization and control by designing, producing and distributing products themselves' (ibid: 52). There seems to be a dubious binary set up which equates:

old media vs new media
television vs internet
passivity vs activity

There is a wealth of ethnographic research from European Media/Cultural Studies scholars which disputes such a simplistic understanding of audience engagement - something we cover here on our Media Studies modules (MAC201). Qualitative research in this area paints a varied and complex set of cultural negotiations and competences from, say, a television audience. The work of David Buckingham, David Gauntlett, David Morley, Charlotte Brundson, Ien Ang, Janice Radway, Dorothy Hobson, etc all point to this being the case.

Overall, Tapscott's desire to challenge the assumption that the Internet is making kids dumb by focussing on the ability of young people to forge new connections, engage in distributable editing, scour and research a topic using online tools results in their being an overemphasis being placed on the power of the Internet.

I can see why he wants to embrace the optimism of the Internet especially when online behaviour seems to be coming under attack from neuroscientists like Baroness Susan Greenfield and Gary Small, as well as cultural critics and authors like Andrew Keen and Nicolas Carr (you can watch some footage of Carr below, taken from a forthcoming BBC Digital Revolution project). We can add to this the concerns of educationalists who fear that student use of the Internet is fostering an uncritical and superficial sense of engagement with information.



Implicit in this camp is the assumption that there are some potentially problematic changes occurring - the Internet has encouraged a new form of informational engagement - one which sacrifices depth for sporadic leaps from section to section or site to site. Carr fears we have sacrificed our contemplative approach to thinking. This sounds like the passivity mentioned by Tapscott in relation to TV in another guise.

I'd like to think that is a middle road here, what sociologist John Thompson refers to as an 'interaction mix' - that consumption of media is nebulous and works across platforms. Creating artificial divides between media use is misleading at best. What are we to take from Tapscott's argument: that television is a passive activity or that the reading of books is inferior to Internet-use? What do we take from the opposing camp: that new media habits are potentially changing how we make sense of information? It seems to me that this divide between old and new media is a straw man argument - one sets up the other to create a false argument that serves the best interests of those starting the posturing.

All new media forms will require new literacies - the argument over whether one is better or worse than another is misleading when taken in isolation.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Students quiz me on piracy

I've been asked by a couple of our Magazine Journalism students to help them with a second year module by answering some questions about filesharing. I thought I'd share the questions and my responses to them here as they touch on some of the issues I've been posting on here in recent weeks. There is a little but of cut and paste to be found in one of the answers but mostly, the questions and the answers differ.

Student 1's questions:

I am going with the angle that as much as the government is trying to get rid of file-sharing, it is always going to exist because it is a relatively new technology and is still evolving. The first generation of file-sharers have established the act but now the new generation are expanding it making it close to impossible to eliminate completely.

Do you think that the government were slow to act on file-sharing sites and underestimated how popular they have become?

What do you think to the 'three strikes and you are out' method of coping with individuals? is it all coming too late?

Do you think that the DEMOS report on file-sharing has shown us anything that we didn't already know?
Do you think that file-sharing will continue to exist and what from will it take?

My answers:

The government were very slow to react to digital file-sharing, as was the entertainment industry. The reason for this is complex but comes down to their suitability as a regulator of the Internet - a technology which transcends traditional (read: old media) forms of regulation in that traditional territorial rules don't always clearly apply. A file-sharing site may be registered in one country, it's servers hosted in another, it's user's in many different countries - which national legal system should be drawn upon? How does the law react to these international issues? Generally, laws take a long time to be proposed, written and drafted into being. Given those logistics it's no surprise that the responses were slow.

The 'three strikes' policy as it stands is poorly thought out and is wholly inadequate as a method for combating file-sharing. There are a number of reasons for this - too many to go into here, I suspect. However, I shall try and outline the key points.

Firstly, the methodology for identifying suspected copyright infringers is far from an exact science - a 2008 report from the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering department revealed how a networked printer managed to be implicated in DMCA takedown request. It was highly unlikely that the printer was downloading copyright content! This hasn't stopped over zealous legal firms like Davenport & Lyons from issuing false claims against innocent parties with insufficient evidence, such as Mr and Mrs Murdoch (aged 66 and 54) who were accused of downloading the Atari game Race07.

Secondly, the law fails to take into account the role of the exact infringer - many people may share an Internet connection, especially if they live in large family or student household. An infringement may take place on the network but it is very difficult to prove who was responsible for the act without a thorough investigation - something the 'three strikes' policy refuses to do. The accusation would then fall at the feet of the bill payer who may not have done anything wrong, but will potentially be labelled a criminal.

Thirdly, an unsecured wireless network may be used to share bandwidth meaning that anyone in a certain radius can access the Internet with that connection. There are different legal implications regarding this behaviour, but ignoring those for now, the bill payer will be held responsible in this instance despite having not committed a crime. There are many reasons why a network may be unsecured, from a lack of technological knowledge through to a purposeful attempt to share bandwidth - the proposed 'threes strikes' ruling would treat both as the same when they are clearly not.

Add to these factors the increasing dependence on the Internet for public services and its future use as a medical tool (video streaming a doctor!), then disconnection seems wholly disproportionate and at odds with a recent All Party Communications Group report (.pdf) regarding the promotion of eGovernment.

If a crime is committed it should be dealt with in the courts, not by the content industries who employ dubious methodology to make their accusations.

As for the DEMOS report, I'm not quite sure what you mean about the 'what we didn't already know' bit. If you are referring to the claim that file-sharers typically spend more money on music than those that don't admit to file-sharing then the report does echo the sentiments that have been expressed quite vocally on many public and private file-sharing sites and services. However, what the report does do is it points to an empirical basis for measuring attitudes towards file-sharing. I think a Norwegian paper from earlier in the year did much the same thing

One of the key ways in which file-sharing is monitored is by tracking the IP addresses of people involved in torrent swarms. This how the basic tracker service works in torrent technology. However, technologies like DHT, PEX and Magnet Links completely do away with the need for file sharers to be identified in this manner. Add to that, people can use encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or services like TOR to hide their identity online and continue their file-sharing activities. WASTE networks will also play a part. If the deep-packet-inspection (DPI) techniques some ISPs are using continue to improve so they can examine traffic on their networks then I wouldn't be surprised to see the exchange of large but portable hard drives in school yards and parking lots in much the same way cassette tapes were traded in the 1980s.

Student 2's questions

1) What was your reaction the news that file sharers also buy the most music legitimately?

2) Why do you think people choose to download illegally?

3) How much of a negative effect, if any, do you think it has on artists and labels?

4) What are your thoughts on the digital economy bill and the proposed move to ban users who download illegally from the internet?

5) Do you think, in practice, it is possible to completely quash illegal downloading?

6) What could record labels do to encourage music fans to buy legally before looking elsewhere?

7) What are your views on artists joining the file sharing debate, for example Lilly Allen and her recent (bizarre) comments which you twittered the link to?

My responses:

1) I wasn't at all surprised by the findings. The claim that file-sharers typically spend more money on music than those that don't admit to file-sharing in the DEMOS report does echo the sentiments that have been expressed quite vocally on many public and private file-sharing sites and services. However, what the report does do is it point to an empirical basis for measuring attitudes towards file-sharing. I think a Norwegian paper from earlier in the year did much the same thing

2) The reasons for piracy are nebulous and far ranging. I can give you at least 10 reasons off the top of my head without even going down the 'free music' route:

1.File-sharers resent years of overpriced products (expensive CDs & ‘filler’ tracks)
2.Pre-release exclusivity
3.Discover new music/ lost classics without financial risk
4.Community spirit (private sites, social networks, blogs)
5.Very easy to do and low risk!
6.Reaction against mainstream mass-produced pap/pop
7.Fan ownership of musical products & free will vs. industry attempts to control content
8.DRM encourages passivity and limits future development/creativity
9.The sound quality of legitimate digital music is insufficient for many audiophiles
10.Music consumption has changed (gigs, merchandise, Guitar Hero, etc)

Have you seen this study (.pdf) by some behavioural economists who experimented with price differences to see how people reacted? They offered a group of subjects a choice between two chocolates, Hershey's Kisses for one cent and Lindt truffles for 15c. Three quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. When they did it again after reducing the cost of each chocolate by 1 cent (now free & 14c), they found the obvious - that the order of preference was revered with more people choosing the free offer. Now despite the price difference being the same (14c) the consequences of shifting to 'free' was dramatic - it produces a completely different consumer dynamic.

3) It's difficult to quantify a 'negative effect' in this case as there are way too many variables to consider. If music fans stop paying for music then there is an obvious problem, but there is little conclusive evidence to suggest this is the case - in fact, a recent report (.pdf) by the Performing Right Society concluded that UK music economy is getting bigger, not smaller. The figures bandied around pointing to how widespread file-sharing is are also subject to exaggeration. The point I'm trying to make is that nobody really knows how harmful filesharing is, if it is at all, but it is PRESUMED to be in a common sense manner taken as fact. Very problematic. The real problem, as I see it, comes through the typical royalty rates given to artists by labels - as seen in the Gowers report from 2006 (p51). This was typically about 9% for CD sales and is about 8% for digital downloads. Labels and retailers (& even credit card companies!) make more more than the creators. Even though there is no shop space or physical packaging to pay for, the artists are worse off due to the licensing of digital content.

4) My thoughts on the Digital Economy bill are on my blog (mentioned above: pirate finder general post). I think that the bill is an attempt to force unworkable laws into being that will end up doing more harm than good. Copyright needs reforming, but not in the ways proposed by Lord Mandelson.

5) I'm not convinced it will be entirely possible to quash illegal file-sharing. Technology has a knack of offering new possibilities at a rate far faster than the legal system can adapt. One of the key ways in which file-sharing is currently monitored is by tracking the IP addresses of people involved in torrent swarms. This how the basic tracker service works in torrent technology. However, technologies like DHT, PEX and Magnet Links completely do away with the need for file sharers to be identified in this manner. Add to that, people can use encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or services like TOR to hide their identity online and continue their file-sharing activities. WASTE networks will also play a part. If the deep-packet-inspection (DPI) techniques some ISPs are using continue to improve so they can examine traffic on their networks then I wouldn't be surprised to see the exchange of large but portable hard drives exchanged in the school yards in much the same way cassette tapes were traded in the 1980s. Even if a new method for blocking content is developed I suspect hardcore copyright infringers will find a way to continue their activities - they may just be physically scaled down somewhat.

6) I'm not really sure what record labels can do about this. Usually they fund lobbyists groups like UK Music or the BPI to do this in the form of educational campaigns about the problems of piracy (ie hurting artists). There have been a few innovations in recent years that are often heralded as an alternative to piracy (eg Last.FM, Spotify, We7, iTunes, RouteNote, etc) but as for whether or not they actually help support artists is another argument entirely given the royalty deals mentioned earlier. There have been some stories that suggest Spotify pays artists slightly more than nothing for streams, but only just! One of the problems with setting up new services like Spotify is that these small companies have to negotiate with the record labels to be able to carry their copyrighted content. If one of the major labels refuses or demands a royalty rate higher than Spotify can afford to recoup then the service will be incomplete or it may struggle to scale up and find a sufficient user base to make it a viable alternative. Record labels could help foster innovation and their long term survival by relaxing their restrictive licences.

7) I'm all for artists joining the debate about filesharing. It's possible to find many artists who refuse to condemn the practise as they see it as a potential business opportunity. I'm thinking of Matt Mason on 'The Pirate's Dilemma' and Chris Anderson's 'freemium' argument here where free content (downloaded music) can serve to act as a marketing tool around which other services/goods can be sold (gig tickets, merchandise, naming rights deals, etc). Lily Allen, I think, has a tendency to engage in public arguments without always fully understanding the range of positions available. She has done so in the past when talking about being middle class, she did it again with the piracy debate and her most recent outburst: "If someone comes up with a burnt copy of my CD and offers it to you for £4, I haven't a problem with that as long as the person buying it places some kind do of value on my music". The woman is a walking contradiction.

Monday, 23 November 2009

EU Parliment's credibility undermined by 3-strikes U-Turn: follow up

You may recall that last month I blogged about the EU's credibility being undermined by the 180 degree reversal that was made regarding the Telecoms Package, incorporating Amendment 138. I wrote to my three MEPs (Martin Callanan, Stephen Hughes and Fiona Hall) expressing my concerns. Only one of those MEPs took the time to acknowledge my email, the Lib Dem MEP, Fiona Hall. Her response from the 16th of November is outlined below:
Dear Mr Jewitt

Thank you for your email regarding the EU Telecoms package.

The European Parliament and the European Council reached a deal on this text last week after the Council agreed to MEPs' demands that internet users suspected of uploading or downloading illegal material should face a "prior, fair and impartial procedure" rather than an arbitrary ban on their internet use and being simply cut off.

For many people, the internet is not just an optional add-on: it is a vital lifeline. Citizens rely on the web to do business, buy goods and maintain social contacts and some of our most vulnerable people need it most. I believe that the European Parliament has acted to make sure that those who are accused of breaching the law are treated in a fair and impartial manner.

The British government is planning its own telecoms bill later this month and I am concerned that it is expected to feature a three-strikes-and-you're-banned policy. The British Government must respect the decision on this made at a European level and ensure that its own telecoms bill reflects people's rights to internet access.

Thank you once again for your email.

Yours sincerely
Fiona Hall MEP
As you can see, the Lib Dems share many of the concerns that I've covered on this blog in recent months - notably the imminent Digital Economy bill in which the unelected Secretary of State Lord Mandelson is planning on giving himself 'secondary legislation' powers to write into law anything he sees fit to help protect copyright owners, even if that means disconnecting Internet users without due legal recourse. Nicholas Lansman of the Internet Service Provider's Association has been highly critical of the government's recent behaviour, especially the burden it is placing on ISPs:
“ISPA is extremely disappointed by aspects of the proposals to address illicit filesharing. This legislation is being fast-tracked by the Government and will do little to address the underlying problem.”
Too much power is being accrued by Mandelson. Visit The Register's site for more details.

Old letter I forgot to publish

I usually use this blog to publish any of my engagements with MPs or MEPs regarding digital matters and I found a copy of an email I sent last month to my MP, David Miliband, regarding Tom Watson's Early Day Motion on filesharing. You can find the email below:
Dear David Miliband,

I'd like to express my desire for you to support Tom Watson’s cross-party Early Day Motion, 1997, on file sharing. I believe that it is crucial that external organisations who suspect internet users of file-sharing are not able to require Internet Service Providers to disconnect or throttle data based on accusations (especially given the well known problems associated with the methodology used to gather such "evidence").

I would find it difficult to support a political party that approves of such measures which would impact on a wide range of essential digital services (commercial services, online shopping and banking, etc), and a recent YouGov poll for the Open Rights Group suggests much the same: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/assets/files/pdfs/ORG-YouGov-internet-sanctions-poll.pdf

I support disconnection for court proceedings, but not for accusations

Yours sincerely,

Robert Jewitt

All this was in vein as my MP is a memeber of the cabinet and can't vote on Early Day Motions, which is prorbably why I didn't post the message back on the 19th of October when I originally sent it.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Pirate Finder General

Yesterday it emerged via Cory Doctorow's boing boing blog that the UK government is planning to introduce some radical changes to the Digital Economy bill that will seek to combat copyright infringement in a most aggressive manner. One of the consequences of these changes is a serious threat to democracy in that the Secretary of State (currently Lord Mandelson) will have the power to make "secondary legislation" (legislation that is passed without debate) to amend the provisions of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

Effectively, this would give an unelected official the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright - something which benefits big business in cases where only around 2% of copyrighted products are worth supporting in law (98% of copyrighted material is no longer supported by the market but is still covered by the blanket law). This is clearly a case of industry being more important the people. Doctorow attribute the following reasons for his new proposal:

1. The Secretary of State would get the power to create new remedies for online infringements (for example, he could create jail terms for file-sharing, or create a "three-strikes" plan that costs entire families their internet access if any member stands accused of infringement)

2. The Secretary of State would get the power to create procedures to "confer rights" for the purposes of protecting rightsholders from online infringement (for example, record labels and movie studios can be given investigative and enforcement powers that allow them to compel ISPs, libraries, companies and schools to turn over personal information about Internet users, and to order those companies to disconnect users, remove websites, block URLs, etc)

3. The Secretary of State would get the power to "impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement" (for example, ISPs could be forced to spy on their users, or to have copyright lawyers examine every piece of user-generated content before it goes live; also, copyright "militias" can be formed with the power to police copyright on the web)

What does this mean for you?

There are far ranging implications at stake in the changes being proposed here. Imagine the implications for uploading a recording of, say, a birthday party featuring background music to YouTube... That music would be subject to copyright law making the uploader a copyright infringer and a potential victim of this new bill - liable for any breaches made. Place this scenario in the context of point 2) and you can imagine being the target of record company surveillance watching your every move, even going as far to restrict your access to specific content. At what point did the British public decide to let the entertainment industry police its behaviour as if it was a state authority?

Get involved

Naturally, organisations like the Open Rights Group are campaigning against such changes and encouraging members of the public to phone their MPs with their concerns. I urge you to do the same as time is very short. You can email your MP here but due to the time limits a phone call is more likely to be effective.

Further reading:

Charles Arthur, Guardian, 20/11/09 'Treasury secretary defends government's online piracy plans'
Charles Arthur, Guardian, 20/11/09, 'Why are cyberlockers suddenly such a problem, Lord Mandelson?'
Dept for Culture, Media & Sport, 2009, Digital Britain report

Top slicing the BBC - the result

Earlier in the week I blogged about the threat facing the BBC posed by the proposed top-slicing. I encouraged readers of this blog and follower over on my Twitter feed to get involved and contact their MP to voice their concerns about the implications of such a move. The civic action group 38 Degrees was crucial to mobilising protest against this movement with it's email template and MP finding resource. I wrote to my MP and I encouraged my colleagues in the University of Sunderland Media department to do this same (a big thank you to all those who got involved - it's appreciated!).

I thought several of you may be interested in the verdict...

I received a mail from 38 Degrees over on Facebook which poitned to the success of the campaign. You can read the message below:

Dear friend,

This week thousands of us worked together to persuade the government not to top-slice the licence fee. The government had been expected to confirm their top-slicing plans in the Queen's speech on Wednesday. This would have threatened the BBC's funding and independence, by handing a chunk of the licence fee to rival broadcasters. After thousands of us signed the petition and wrote to our MPs, the government announced that they aren't pushing ahead with top-slicing, and that the matter will now be reviewed by the next government in 2012.

We've had a big success, which shows that it works when we stand up for the BBC together. But politicians and media millionaires continue to attack the BBC and there could still be a big cut in the licence fee in the future. The more of us there are involved in the campaign, the stronger we'll be when it's time to stand up for the BBC against future threats.

Ask your friends to get involved in the campaign by forwarding this email and asking them to click this link: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/standup4thebbc

We've always known that top-slicing is not the only threat facing the organisation. Many powerful interests will continue attacking the BBC - from rival media companies who resent the competition, to politicians who think that it should tow their line. We know the BBC isn't perfect and has made mistakes which make it more vulnerable to criticism, but it's definitely worth protecting.

The Conservative Party are talking up their plans to cut the licence fee, and potentially close down whole parts of the BBC. Just yesterday, David Cameron said "the BBC has got very overextended and the licence fee is high". [1] [2]

The media multi-millionaire Rupert Murdoch is increasingly vocal in his attacks, calling the licence fee a "scandal". [3] His son, James Murdoch, the chief executive and chairman of News Corporation, says the licence fee should become "much, much smaller".

Together we've seen off the threat of top-slicing, which shows that people power works. The more of us there are, the more effective we'll be in standing up for the BBC against future attacks. Can you ask your friends to join in? Please forward this email and ask them to join the campaign by clicking this link: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/standup4thebbc


Thanks for getting involved,

David, Hannah, Johnny, Nina and the 38 Degrees team


[1] http://www.mumsnet.com/onlinechats/david-cameron-nov-09#BBC_licence_fee

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/6574186/BBC-licence-fee-could-be-cut-Tories-say.html

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/digital-media/6533512/Rupert-Murdoch-could-sue-BBC-and-block-Google.html
Good news in the short term! However, the commercial sector will always look to the BBC as a threat and seek to lobby government to curb it's reach. The medium term future of the BBC looks rocky, especially if the Conservative party get into power by next summer. It needs the support of the licence fee paying public, so, stand up for the BBC.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Top-slicing the BBC

This week the government will be discussing the future funding of the BBC, as will be announced in the forthcoming Queen's Speech on Wednesday. This was also something suggested in the final draft of the Digital Britain report. You can read the BBC's response to these proposed changes here (.pdf 57kb). I'm not keen on the idea of government top-slicing the current BBC licence fee as it sends mixed messages to the public about where responsibility lies when audience members feel aggrieved on the back of specific programmes. It also undermines the role of public service broadcasting more generally.

In an email discussion with colleagues at the University of Sunderland about this subject Professor Andrew Crisell, the esteemed broadcast historian and author of several books in the area, had this to say:
The purpose of a public service broadcaster like the BBC is to overcome the limitations of the commercial system of competition and serve everybody, including those groups who are too small to interest advertisers. So if the government introduces competition into public service provision, this means that it either doesn't understand what public service broadcasting is or doesn't give a damn about it anyway. Competitive public service broadcasting is a contradiction in terms and will result in the same kind of audience chasing that already characterises the commercial sector.
There are a number of campaign groups mobilising in support of the BBC like the Citizen's Coalition for Public Service Broadcasting, which has the backing of several high profile media scholars. You can follow them on Twitter or join the Facebook group. You can also express your dissatisfaction with the new proposals by contacting your MP. The campaign group 38 Degrees has a handy template and email form on their site which enables people to have their say and petition their local MP. I've already contact David Miliband on this matter - the text of the letter can be found below:
Dear MP,

I hear that the government is considering including plans to topslice the BBC in the Queen's Speech. I'm concerned that this is a threat to the BBC's long-term future, and will undermine its independence. One advantage of the current licensing of the BBC is that the public can clearly identify the correct avenue of complaint when confronted with an emotive issue. A mixed method of funding in which commercial bodies receive licence fee money complicates this relationship.

The example of the funding support given over to the Digital Switchover Help Scheme and the subsequent underspend should not function to act as a precedent that undermines the licence fee paying public's relationship with the BBC. This example is frequently used to support the top-slicing argument, but lacks adequate weight. This was an extraordinary use of the public's money to drive technical innovation, new platforms for public and commercial content creation and improve audience choice. This benefited all involved when commercial sector had failed to provide a viable platform.

Given the global prominence of the BBC brand in an field where very few other British success stories exist, it seems counterproductive to siphon funding away. If the proposed top-slicing goes ahead the danger is such that future governments will be able to leverage commercial and political pressure against the BBC in a perpetual 'casus belli' which may undermine one of the democratic functions served by the Corporation. There is no guarantee that the percentage of top slicing proposed today will not increase over time - this has happened in other countries which have adopted similar models.

Many other suggestions have been made for ways of funding public service content made outside of the BBC, without top-slicing. Please contact Gordon Brown and Ben Bradshaw urgently and ask them to take a fresh look at these alternatives, rather than push ahead with top-slicing the BBC. Please also sign EDM 1891 to put on the record that you oppose top-slicing.

Please let me know when you've done all this, or if not please let me know why not.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Jewitt
Get involved.

Edit: I've had a response back from my MP. It was pretty quick - less than 30 minutes after I sent the email it had arrived. The reason for that is my MP is a member of the cabinet so does not sign Early Day Motions:
Strict Parliamentary rules state that members of the cabinet do not sign EDM's. However, I have passed a copy of your email on to Ben Bradshaw's department so they are aware of your concerns
Ben Bradshaw is not my favourite MP - he has already levelled criticism at the way in which the BBC is funded so I suspect my argument will fall on deaf ears. This is why your voice counts even more.

Get involved

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tracking musical expenditure: October

The second month of the experiment to track my music related expenditure has ended and, as I expected, fell far short of the previous month which was packed with festivals and live concerts. I almost spent a fortune buying Fleetwood Mac tickets (for my wife!) on eBay but I couldn't afford them in the end.

So this month was a relatively tight month with a grand total of £69.72 being spent on music. £50 of that was the deposit for Glastonbury next year, with the rest being spent on 2 CDs and 1 digital download album. I think that is the first time I have ever paid for a digital album. I always opt for the CD version if it's available, but this was a digital-only release.

This brings the total spend on music up to £742.86 (the data for the 2 months to date can be found here) in a month where a few different sources have suggested that filesharers spend more money on music in a year than non-filesharers.

The idea that filesharers spend more on music than non-filesharers is nothing new to those people who actively participate in music file-sharing communities where you can find many posts on the subject of how much they spend on music. The Mail cite a Demos paper which claims filesharers spend £77 a year on singles and albums as opposed to £33 for non-filesharers. This data is very similar to an Ipsos-Mori poll in the Independent which says the same thing... Hmmm. If I add up my expenditure to date on albums and singles only (excluding music bought for games like Guitar Hero) my total comes to £28.71. If I add on the Guitar Hero DLC that comes to £34.39 - more than non-filesharer spends in a year!

Despite this, Lord Mandelson is still intent of curbing the behaviour of those accused of filesharing even though they seem to contribute more to the music industry. Admittedly, the data seems to be gathered from those people willing to admit to filesharing which many of the 1000 respondents may not have wanted to do, especially as it is being increasingly linked to criminality. I suppose Mandy will see this as evidence that more money can be squeezed out of people that are willing to spend money on music.