Friday, 22 February 2008

Breakin' the law

...and we actually elected these bozos.

The government will on Friday tell Internet service providers they will be hit with legal sanctions from April next year unless they take concrete steps to curb illegal downloads of music and films. (quote from

Doesn't this practically make the Internet illegal? It certainly puts sites like YouTube on very dodgy ground. Are ISP suppose to go through the millions of videos and decide which ones violate copyright ? Wikipedia says there are about 75 million video on YouTube alone, so searching that lot is going to be slightly more than a lunchtime job. The only practical solution would be for ISPs to ban whole sites. But wait, what about my quote above. It's lifted straight out of the FT's web page. Is that legal? Well, yes in this case, since it's easy to argue that it is 'fair use' but what if I had nicked half the page or the whole page? Should an ISP be interested? Is this a copyright issue or is it the movie and record industry again trying to protect their golden goose? Even if I had pinched the whole article from the FT no one would care. OK, it's stealing and if I did over and over eventually I would almost certainly get a very nasty letter in the post ( or email ) but that would be between me and the FT. ( or at least some nice gentlemen representing the FT in very sharp suits ). If I stole a car, the Highways agency isn't liable for me making my getaway on the public roads.

Don't get me wrong, using other people work is wrong but it seems ( and I quote quite loosely and badly ) 'Some things are wronger than others'. If I download a film I will be pursued to the ends of the earth. My ISP will be locked up and flogged and I alone will be responsible for the downfall of the capitalist system. If I steal anything else no one cares. No, that's not fair, people do care but they don't see it as an opportunity to make disproportionate amounts of money. I speak from experience here. Some years ago I ran a fairly popular web site. One day I discovered a very, very similar web site. After a short investigation I found that the site even contained my spelling mistakes. The miscreant involved had lifted the whole site and just changed the logo on the title bar. After a few very icy phone calls the site went away. OK, I was really annoyed that my hard work had been pinched ( and my abysmal spelling made even more public ) but that was between me and the evil doer. Did it ever occur to me that the ISP's that carried that site were to blame? No, don't be bloody stupid! Where does this stop. If I call my mate on the phone and suggest something illegal is the phone company liable. What happens if I rent a video from Blockbuster and then stick in on the Internet? Are they responsible since they are the supplier of the service. If you follow this logic to the bitter end the Internet and practically half the world would grind to a stand still.

The article goes on to say that 6 million users illegally download files. So what, it wouldn't matter if the number was 50 million. I bet there isn't one of you reading this article that hasn't at some time broken a copyright agreement. You haven't? Well next time you lend your friend that great novel you have just finished or give a old book to a charity shop, read the copyright agreement in the front. What would these tyrannical companies prefer? If I download a few tracks ( illegally ) listen to them and decide to go and buy the album on CD is that wrong? If I thought for one minute that a record would come after me in that scenario I wouldn't download and check out the tracks. I also wouldn't pay fifteen quid and hope that the CD was good.

Record and music companies loose very little acquirable revenue from online stealing as opposed to organised bootleg gangs. Bringing the whole weight of the judicial system against some poor sod in the middle of nowhere because their son or daughter has pilfered 200 mp3s is very very counter productive. It makes them look like bullies and discourages people from helping them. What they want is for people to shop the dodgy characters selling knock off DVDs at car boot sales or markets.

Stealing material is wrong both from a economic stand point since it does reduce the available return for other projects and from a philosophical point, as in, you won't go to Heaven.

Well, I seem to have worn out the question mark key in this article and I think that says a lot. The Internet is still relatively new ( ish ) and the majority of the people in positions of power are relatively old ( ish ) but this approach just shows that a) politicians are idiots and b) most people now wouldn't pee on people like the RIAA if they were on fire. Laws like this is about as useful as legislating against the sun coming up in the morning.