Thursday, 21 April 2011

Digital Economy Act: the battle may be over...

... but the war rages on

Yesterday morning saw Justice Kenneth Parker present his ruling regarding the Judicial Review of the Digital Economy Act.  Two of the UK's largest ISPs, BT and TalkTalk, were swept aside as their attempt to persuade the court that the new law infringed web users' basic rights and freedoms as a result of the Act being passed into law without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.

All but one of the ISPs claims were overruled (the exception being the claim about the costs imposed on ISPs as a result of rights holders queries about subscribers IP addresses).  As a result, Justice Parker deemed the provisions of the Act to be consistent with EU law.  Moments like this, when severely flawed policy is rendered appropriate to the task, can leave those of us who have been vocal in their opposition to the Act feeling a little beaten.  However, now is not the time to give up hope, but a time to regroup and focus on the practicalities involved in the next stage of action.

There are still many issues that raised by the Digital Economy Act that need publicly questioning and there are several forums in which to express these concerns.  Whether the focus is on the future of open public wi-fi networks (under threat by the Act), the potential for individual privacy to be compromised by various surveillance regimes, or whether or not website blocking arrangements are a threat to future new startups or personal creativity, the war is far from over.

Peter Bradwell, writing for the Open Rights Group, has stated that the "ruling is an assessment of the Act's consistency with EU rules on how governments are allowed to legislate" - it is not an assessment as to whether or not the Act is the right tool to support digital innovation or whether it is the most appropriate policy judgement regarding the policing of 'guilty' IP addresses.  Indeed, Justice Parker's ruling seems to go against the grain of Judge Birss in the ACS Law case, in which the QC acknowledged that  evidence of an IP address infringing is different to pin-pointing a person.  It's certainly going to be interesting to see how courts will proceed with cases based on the 'graduated response' process especially given the problems of:

  • inaccuracies in the software and methods employed to detect file-sharers
  • inaccuracies in the connections made between IP address, bill payer and actual file-sharers
  • inaccuracies in the data logs kept by ISPs
The biggest problem comes from the way in which government seems beholden to the 'big numbers' game being played by effective industry lobbyists and their projections of massive losses that results in legislation being passed under false pretences.  Put simply, there is insufficient research or evidence of losses associated with file-sharing, yet that hasn't stopped the BPI's wishes making their way into the Act

The Digital Economy Act may well yet prove to have a 'chilling effect' on the content industry in the UK - such an outcome would be a travesty given the wide-spread criticism of the legislation.  In a response to a recent letter I sent to my MP, the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt noted:
The Government does not have any in-principle objections to blocking sites set up primarily to distribute illegally-copied content. I am aware, though, that there are a number of technical issues which would need to be addressed if such a scheme were to be made to work effectively, and I appreciate that there are methods to evade blocking techniques which could be employed by websites determined to infringe copyright.
Many users of infringing sites may be unaware that the sites they are viewing carry content unlawfully, and they may find it useful for such unlawful sites to be less readily available. Therefore, I continue to believe that there is value in exploring the options.
This seems indicative of the problem - many users are unaware of infringing content (YouTube? Muxtape?) and it's questionable how the messages regarding infringement will be conveyed under this new regime.  YouTube fingerprinting software even preempts the uploading of content that might be digitally flagged as potentially suspicious.  How far will techniques like this go as content hosting intermediaries start to police their users, and subsequently, those users police themselves?

As I said at the beginning of this post, the war is still continuing even if this battle might be lost.  I'd like to cite Peter Bradshaw once again:
Bad decisions build movements against them. Whether it is ID cards or the poll tax, history is littered with examples of governments charging ahead with illegitimate ideas that are ultimately abandoned because they are wrong, and people do not accept them.
You can take part in the war.

Join the Open Rights Group.

Help fight for your digital rights.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Copyright Extension Time - Act Now

It's that time again - the push to get the copyright protection for sound recordings to 70 years is back on the cards via the European Council.  It is questionable as to whether or not such an extension will benefit many musicians. This was something I was keen to oppose back in November of 2009, so long time readers of this blog will be familiar with the arguments. If not check out the video below for details:

The most likely practical outcome of the extension is that material recorded by (now deceased) artists from more than 50 years ago will no longer make it's way into the public domain for it to be repurposed or remixed free from licensing obligations.  There's plenty of independent analysis to support a rejection of the extension terms (see the links below).

You can make a difference by writing to your MEP now.  The Open Rights Group have helpfully created an prewritten email template for you to send and they'll even find your MEPs for you.  Click through for info and support and do your bit.

This is the edited version of the email I sent my MEPs:

I am writing to you about the European Commission proposal to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.  
I am extremely concerned about the possible passing of this Directive. The economic evidence is stacked against the proposal. And it will benefit only a small number of artists and businesses - 96% of the returns will go to the big labels and a minority of the biggest artists. It will result in large parts of our cultural history being locked away. Leading IP professors, the UK government's 'Gowers  Review' of IP, and independent economic analysts have all said that extending the term of protection is unwise. 
The Financial Times called the proposal 'disgraceful' in an editorial in 2009. The University of Cambridge's Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law concluded that 'it would be particularly inadvisable, given our present state of knowledge, for a rational policy-maker to extend the term of copyright in sound'.  
I wrote to my MEPs about a similar matter in November 2009 and since then a number of independent academic studies into copyright extension terms have been published in which they've questioned the value of increased powers, for example, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) project headed up by Joe Karaganis entitled 'Media Piracy in Emerging Economies or the work of Bart Cammaerts and Bingchun Meng of the LSE.  I will be co-conveening a series of ESF-funded exploratory workshops in Leuven, Belgium this week with several other academics from the social sciences, law and computer sciences in which we will be seeking to foster a more empirical approach to data in this area and the effects of policy changes. 
Since the Directive passed in 2009 a new Parliament has been elected. However, I am concerned that it may now pass through the Council without any fresh scrutiny or debate. I would therefore urge you to sign the request for 'renewed referral' being tabled by MEP Christian Engström (of the "Greens - European Free Alliance" group), and to oppose this damaging proposal. 

Friday, 8 April 2011

The basics of web design

A couple of weeks ago I posted some tutorials made by Adam Dachis of Lifehacker showing you how to go about starting a video editing project.  This time he's been busy (with Adam Pash) doing much the same thing with an emphasis on building your first web site (this is what we do on our MED102 module).  Below you'll find links to his videos and the text-based pages walking you through the various processes.

#1 - Understanding and writing HTML

Here's a link to a handy HTML cheat sheet.

#2 - Styling and CSS

#3 - A site from start to finish

#4 - Choosing a host and launching your site

#5 - Additional resources

If you fancy a .pdf download of all the text then click here to get that.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

If only #DEAct was an April Fool...

Another week, another letter to my MP regarding the Culture Secretary's meetings with rights holders and ISPs.  Mr Miliband did respond to my previous letter by passing my concerns onto Mr Vaizey - here's hoping that he will do so again given the recent developments.  There's been a flurry of activity in recent days, as we approached the anniversary of the Digital Economy Act's ascent into law, especially given discussions about web blocking and web filtering being implemented in the UK. We could also do well to look at the bigger picture, as the EU has just hired on of the IFPI's top lobbyists to oversee future copyright implementation (eg ACTA, iPRED2)

The notion being mooted in this instance is the establishment of a body similar to the non-profit Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) which collects data about and investigates online child abuse. The IWF then distributes a blacklist of web addresses for ISPs to filter out UK access.  Discussions seem to be gravitating towards the establishment of a similar body dealign with copyright infringement - such a body would act as an intermediary between ISPs and right-holders, but as to how they might function - well that much is unknown to date.  These powers are seeking to replicate much of those afforded to HADOPI in France and iPRED in Sweden, despite there being signs that these measures may be ineffective.  The question of how pays for such an organisation is yet to resolve, although costs may be passed onto IPS subscribers meaning higher broadband bills.

Anyway, here's my second letter in as many weeks to my MP.  Write to your now if you want to be able to use public wifi, libraries or watch YouTube videos:

Thank you for passing my previous concerns onto the Culture Secretary (email correspondence 28th March).  Given his recent intonations regarding the 'self-regulatory' scheme for website blocking measures to combat copyright infringement being discussed by rights holders and ISPs, I fear his mind may already be made up. 
I'd like to reiterate my concerns regarding the web blocking proposals, which I fear may have all manner of unintended consequences that might impact on democratic free speech.  Web blocking sounds like a simple idea. But the reality is that it is a dangerous cosmetic measure. Trying to simply block sites is a complicated process. Proving infringement and that a site warrants blocking is difficult. Deciding what people are allowed to see online is a matter requiring careful oversight.
A voluntary scheme such as the one being discussed by Mr Vaizey, rights holders and ISPs sidesteps any proper judicial oversight and places decisions about what people can and cannot see online in the hands of businesses.  
It also won’t work. It can be easily circumvented by anyone. But the inevitable mistakes, involving disruptions to legitimate traffic, would lead to interference with the interests of businesses, publishers and citizens. There is no conclusive evidence that it will help the creative industries, especially if we look to the example of iPRED in Sweden.
Music and film companies can already apply to courts to block specific instances of copyright infringement. They can also take the sites to court, and frequently do. They can even take individuals to court, and do. What the rightsholders want with this new scheme is to get around the judicial oversight required by the law already in place.  
I know that you have already passed on my prior concerns, but if it is appropriate given the recent discussions that have since taken place, I would appreciate it if you would forward my concerns to the ministers responsible, Ed Vaizey and Jeremy Hunt.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sign the Manifesto for Higher Education

I've just read a blog post by my colleague over on the AJE website drawing attention to two academics who are calling for support from signatories to their 'Manifesto for Higher Education'. The call from Des Freedman, Reader in Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, and Dr Michael Bailey at Essex University, is part of their forthcoming Pluto Press book The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance.

The authors have stated, "students and university staff are involved in a series of crucial campaigns not simply to oppose increased tuition fees and education cuts but also to challenge attempts by the government to impose a whole new ethic to university education in this country: one that is based, above all, on the marketisation of learning and teaching.

We have included below the very short list of manifesto demands that we believe need to be part of the public debate in relation to the future of universities. We plan to run a very public campaign focusing attention on the manifesto to make sure that it is widely circulated inside academic, student and campaigning circles."

A number of high profile writers and academics have already signed, including John Pilger, Paul Gilroy, John McDonnell MP, Nick Davies, Etienne Balibar, Michael Lowy, James Curran, Angela McRobbie, China Mieville, Colin Leys, John Corner, Wendy Brown, Graham Murdock, Mark Fisher, Andrew Ross, Bruno Bosteels and many other.

They'd appreciate your support and are willing to answer any questions about the project. You can email to sign, or if you have any questions.


• Increase proportion of UK public expenditure devoted to higher education to at least the EU19 average of 1.1 per cent (up from 0.7 per cent) – a move that would bring in billions of pounds to the sector.

• Restoration of maintenance grants and abolition of fees to be paid for through an increase in corporation tax and an increase to the top level of personal income tax.

• Restoration of the block grant for all subjects.

• A commitment to staff/student ratios at the OECD average or better.

• Commitment by employers to address the gender pay gap with immediate effect.

• Commitment by employers to nationally agreed terms and conditions for all staff and recognition of trade unions to negotiate these terms and conditions.

• An end wherever possible to the outsourcing of university services including catering, cleaning, international student recruitment, and sickness absence reporting; where outsourcing does take place, a commitment only to consider companies who recognise trade unions and who pay a Living Wage.

• Commitment by employers to move away from the use of hourly-paid contracts for teachers and to offer permanent contracts after two consecutive years of teaching.

• Commitment by employers to affordable, on-campus childcare provision.

• Universities to adopt mission statements, relevant to each institution, that recognise the obligation of institutions to foster independent and critical thought, to ensure access to the university for all social groups, and to seek the participation of the local community in the life of the university.

• Salaries of senior staff and vice-chancellors to be fixed as part of a nationally agreed scale with an income differential, as suggested by Citizens UK, of no more than a multiple of ten.

• Democratisation of governing bodies through the allocation of equal votes to staff and student representatives, community members, and employers’ representatives.

• Scrapping of the National Student Survey and other forms of evaluation which perpetuate cultures of ‘customer satisfaction’ and quality control, and their replacement with forms of feedback that encourage meaningful reflection on teaching and learning.

• Scrapping of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and its replacement with a way of monitoring research work based on respect for the ability of individuals and groups of researchers to define their own research aims and priorities.

• Scrapping of the Points Based System of Immigration as it affects the higher education sector and a halt to punitive measures affecting the free movement of international staff and students. This would include stopping the withdrawal of the post-study work visa, the relaxation of rules affecting students’ ability to seek paid work during their studies and a more sympathetic immigration regime that encourages staff and students to come to the UK.

• Commitment by universities to offer a fixed number of scholarships to qualified candidates from developing countries.

• Ending the requirement of international students to pay significantly higher tuition fees than European students and thus their role as ‘cash cows’.

• Extension of the remit of research ethics committees to consider, with teeth, the ethics of research for the arms trade, the military and the nuclear industry.

• Pledge by universities not to accept donations from individuals or regimes that refuse to sign a statement on academic freedom that guarantees the right of academics and researchers in the ‘donor’ countries to teach and research without fear of state intervention.

Once again, you can email to sign, or if you have any questions.