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Friday, 24 June 2011

Ed Vaizey, please open up your closed-door industry round table meetings

UPDATE 12:49 I'm delighted (and surprised) Ed Vaizey just responded on Twitter

Somebody took it upon themselves to tip me off about a series of closed-door industry meetings between large ISPs and representatives of copyright-holders' groups such as the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), Motion Pictures Asociattion (MPA) and the Premier League; chaired by minister for the internet Ed Vaizey.

Not only that, but they leaked a confidential proposal for censorship of websites carrying copyright infringing topics, which has since been reported on El Reg and the BBC.

I have three reasons why I felt the proposal needed public scrutiny, and none has anything to do with defending those who infringe other people's copyright.  Yes, I believe copyright reform is well overdue, but I'm not a copyright abolitionist and I don't condone the operating methods of many of the sites the rights holders want blocking.

Firstly, blocking is not the answer.  The risks of censorship outweigh the rewards.  I've dealt with this question in numerous past posts and will no doubt explain more in future.

Secondly, the technical feasibility and cost burden of censorship needs much greater scrutiny.  It places an undue burden on ISPs at a time when their margins are being squeezed by competition ( - a thoroughly good thing, IMO) and reinvestment in faster, higher-capacity services.

And thirdly, the closed-door approach is not compatible with aims of self-regulation in an open market.

Why? Because very large ISPs and internet service providers get a seat at the table, but smaller businesses are denied.  This leads to policy driven by dominant incumbent businesses - policy that may be at odds with the needs of newer, innovative entrants.

Self regulation requires a relatively open market for free and fair competition.  The idea being those companies who look after the long term interest of their customers and meet their community and ethical obligations will be rewarded; so long as the market remains neutral.

But we have a situation where large internet service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, British Telecom, etc. get a seat at the policy table.   This will lead to big-business focussed policy, when what in reality is needed for free and fair market competition is for all operators to fight it out amongst themselves.

In fact, free market theorists have explained to me that the government needs to focus on actively helping new entrants whilst simultaneously playing hard ball with the dominant forces in the market; as an unregulated market eventually, over time, will tend towards a monopoly with the barrier for new entrants set so high that innovation in the market is impossible.

It's positively encouraging that Ed Vaizey is hosting round table discussions with industry representatives, but for the reasons outlined above I call on the minister to hold all future discussions in public.

I call on the minister to invite groups representing the interests of smaller businesses to participate in discussion; and, to allow interested parties, reporters and members of the public to observe.

Incredibly important issues are being discussed, and I see no procedural hurdle for such meetings to be held in a democratic manner in a committee room open to the public.

In fact, it's both undemocratic and against the principles of free and fair market competition I believe the minister himself believes in.



  1. An interesting post. Unfortunately, I am unable to be optimistic about the likelihood of your request being heard - DCMS policy to date seems to have been driven by large interests rather than broad consultation or indeed evidence offered by smaller players: it seems the only topic to benefit from any broad engagement has been local television. A shame when all the economic growth rhetoric around creative industries etc clearly points to SMEs being the drivers of innovation.
    While the "protect what we have taken so long to build" position is a natural one for those big interests to take, it is a disappointment that the government should feel compelled to be as conservative as they are. Oh. I think I might have just hit on a clue there. A conservative government acting in the best interests of centralised and consolidated big business? Wow. Shocker.

  2. If you infringe copyright, accidentally or otherwise, aren't you entitled to make your case in a court?

    Surely the only regulation we need, at the extreme end would be to allow courts to impose a cease and desist both on the infringer and on the ISP.

    Do we really want to become part of the group founded by China, Iran and Afghanistan who routinely block websites?

  3. Maybe he responded because you said please? ;-)

    (Making a point against the angry mob who aren't so polite?)


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