[SOLVED]UK Digital Economy Bill

So my splendid talented intelligent handsome friend Robert (who is also my boss, of sorts) today shared this smashing post:

My $62.47 Royalty Statement: How Major Labels Cook the Books with Digital Downloads

About one aspect of how artists get ripped off by the labels. It’s not required reading, but you can if you like. I’ll wait.

Hey. So it made me realise that a very possible fix to the dreadful abuse of artists by the labels is possible. Even better, the solution to this appalling situation is also the solution to the dire problems with the UK’s Digital Economy Bill.

So the UK govt. are debating a new bill, part of which introduces measures to ruthlessly pursue illegal downloaders. There are some problems with this, namely that:

  • Someone (probably the ISPs) will have to monitor what everyone downloads, and report people downloading anything that trips their filters for ‘copyrighted work’. Understandably, they don’t want to do this.
  • It will cost lots to implement – currently estimated at 100 million, but of course the ensuing arms race with encrypted downloads will inflate that. Has anyone compared this with the actual economic losses that it is aiming to fix? (not just the inflated ones self-reported by those with most to gain)
  • It is literally impossible to automatically detect breach of copyright accurately – it can’t be done just by looking at the bits. There will be lots of false positives and false negatives.
  • It will be easy to get around, using encryption or similar technologies to evade detection. It will not fix the problem it aims to fix.
  • It requires representatives of the state to intrusively monitor every single thing we do online
  • The false positives will target and punish many innocent people, who have no way to demonstrate their innocence
  • Perhaps worst of all, its presumption of guilt will have a chilling effect on many legal and morally justifiable uses of the internet, including business models of the present and the future.
  • They are talking about disconnection from the internet as a potential punitive measure for persistent downloaders. Most internet connections are shared by several people, and many of us use each other’s connections all the time. Disconnecting one person for something that someone else downloaded is flagrantly wrong, and without wishing to be melodramatic, collective punishment like this is, strictly speaking, in breach of article 33 of the Geneva Convention. Plus it makes free wi-fi impossible to provide. Are we meant to be destroying the digital economy?

If your country doesn’t have a Bill like this, rest assured, it soon will have.

Anyhow, it’s clear to me that there’s no use in railing against the Bill unless one has an alternative to offer. The debate in the House of Lords yesterday made it clear that the mood there is that millions are flouting the law with illegal downloads to rip off artists and Something Must Be Done.

So what’s the alternative? The solution is the final chapter from Stanford Law Prof. Lawrence Lessig’s book ‘Free Culture‘, that describes how to fix the whole copyright mess in such a way that will make everybody happy. Artists will get paid in abundance, very fairly, in a market-driven way, and the payment will be direct to them. The labels will be eliminated from the loop. No state monitoring of what people download will be required. Everybody will be able to continue to download whatever they like from wherever they like, for free (at point of use), legally and with clear conscience. Best of all, the creation of new business models and grass-roots creativity such as songs and other content will be stimulated through the roof. Whichever country first introduced this would lead the world in a creative tidal wave that embraces the powers of the internet, rather than fighting against them.

I’m not going to write what the copyright fix is here. I have to go to work and I’m still in my pajamas. Oh alright, here’s the quick quick version. We add a tax to every high bandwidth internet connection. The money goes in a pot. Then a central agency samples how many of each creative work is being downloaded. This is just a sample – it needn’t be tied to any individual downloader, so it is cheap to do and unintrusive. Then we distribute the money in the pot to artists, in proportion to the number of downloads they had.

This quick version has some holes in it. Prof. Lessig ties it all up in his book. Yes it has some problems – taxes are never popular, and more expensive internet connections are not what we want. But these problems are small and soluble, compared to what is currently being discussed instead.

I know this is so starry-eyed idealistic that it has no chance of being seriously discussed. But I decided last night that I have to at least give it a try.

Readers from the UK – Do YOU have even the slightest inkling of interest in suggesting this to your own MP? Or at least pointing out the downsides of the current Bill? It would just be one evening out of your life. I’m visiting mine this weekend. Email me if you have any interest at all. I can lead you through the process, it’s simple.

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