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Friday, 30 March 2012

80-year-old peer dusts off typewriter to pen 'think of the children' UK anti-porn net censorship law

Opt-in to porn (or you might not be able to buy a bra)

Unelected 80-year-old Baroness Howe of Idlicot has seemingly had enough of Government inaction protecting the children and dusted-off her typewriter to draft a Private Member's Bill which will force all ISPs to provide porn-free internet unless subscribers opt-in to porn (and prove they're over 18).

The Online Safety Bill was introduced into the Lords with its first reading last Wednesday (HT @netazen) but sources inside and outside parliament tell me they think it's highly unlikely to become law.

Why? Because I'm told measures to tackle access to adult content are due to be unveiled in the Government's forthcoming Communications Bill. That itself is a bit of a wow, as I was previously lead to believe that the Government had pressurised ISPs into implementing a series of voluntary agreements under the threat that legislation would follow if ISPs didn't start to act responsibility.

I'm told the UK's smut filter won't be "opt-in" but "Active Choice", which essentially means instead of one tick-box for new ISP subscribers asking "do you want porn?" it will have 2 tick-boxes saying "do you want porn, yes [ ] or no [ ]"

No-one knows for sure what will be in Communications Bill. The Government's green paper has been delayed - for how long is up for debate - and even then it won't stop Ministers adding in a few extra measures between the Green and White Paper stages.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Has UK gov notified EU of regulatory changes to electrical safety ("Part P") before consultation has closed?

What does it take to be a policy geek? Well for one you stay glued to the various EU/EC mailing lists.

And this morning I was catching up with some non-telecom notifications and I spotted this in the EC Enterprise and Industry notification database: Changes to Part P (Electrical safety - Dwellings) of the Building Regulations. The draft text is visible from this link.

Why is this relevant? Well the text was submitted to the EC on the 13th February 2012, but the government consultation on these changes doesn't even close until next month!

Has the government presumed the outcome of both a public consultation and Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry?

In total, the UK government submitted draft changes to six sections of the building regulations  (parts A, B, C, L, P, K) on 13th February before a parliamentary select committee inquiry into changes in building regulations even took its first evidence on 20th February.

As discussed on this blog in relation to 2 remaining pieces of legislation required for the file sharing clamp-down under the Digital Economy Act, the UK government must notify Brussels under the 'Authorisation Directive' (98/34/EC) of upcoming changes to 'technical standards'.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Our standardised privacy policy project is not an exercise in iconography

More than icons
TM. A visualisation of Privacy Footprint, part of the proposed standardised personal data scheme.  
I've spoken to a quite a few people about our plan for a suite of standardised privacy policies. Whilst about 70% of people are enthusiastic of our plan (non-scientific study!), inevitably many tend to focus solely on the icons, and at that point tell me either (a) it's been tried before (yes, I know) or (b) it won't change user behaviour.

Here's a quick response: our proposal is not primarily about icons.

And here's a fuller response...

My perspective on the Mozilla Privacy Icons project: it attempted to graphically represent all the ways that data could be used or shared, and capture this in an icon.

In some respects the Mozilla privacy icon project is a graphical progression of P3P, the compact privacy policy project. Both approaches are looking at privacy perhaps as a software engineer would.

Where we - as in Julian Ranger and myself at Open Digital - are coming from is somewhat different.

We're not trying to encode a complex amount of information into an icon.

Call for sponsors and shareholders: Open Digital and SRoC to end in current forms in 7 weeks without funding

I've spent the last 3 years working pretty much full time trying to bring just a small element of rationality to the internet policy debate in the UK.

I co-founded Open Digital just under 11 months ago as a platform to develop better digital policy.

But I have spent the last 3 years working full time, focussing on policy at the expense of funding.

I suddenly find myself with an organisation that's embedded itself at the heart of digital policy debate in the UK - from cyber security to blocking and censorship, copyright and protection of the vulnerable - and no funding whatsoever for year two.

I'm sure there are a few lobbyists, many civil servants and even a government minister or two quietly rejoicing at the fact that both Open Digital and this blog will end in their current form in just 7 weeks if we can't secure significant funding. (Oh, and I'll need a job then, too...)

But I have responsibilities to my family as well fighting for what I believe in. I've been treading water for the best part of 3 years and I now need to either turn what I do into a paid career or resume my software career.

We now need to proceed with a fully-funded project, find alternative funding, or park our work.  We're focussing on our drive to create a suite of standardised privacy policies that gives clarity in how your personal data will be used. Read more on the Open Digital Policy Blog.


Friday, 23 March 2012

Fed up with Twitter of other social network? Try a stream switch

Twitter, it can get dull. Same old people, same old issues. Yes, I'm sure many think that about me too.

But this isn't a post about getting back at the dullards, in fact it's the opposite.  You shouldn't be questioning why people post what they do - you should be questioning why you're bothering to listen.

It's a reminder that on Twitter and other social networks, audience is a privilege, not a right.

There's some weird psychology at play. Gaming the numbers, Peerindex, Klout score, follower count etc.

You don't want to unfollow for risk of offending. Or because you know they'll unfollow and kill your ambitions to reach X-thousand followers.

So you'd seriously put up with the shit just to look more popular? Or, as I'm hearing more and more, ditch using the network entirely because its lost its zing!

I'm evangelical about the way information seeps through the social web and personal publishing. It's radically different to anything we've seen before - it's symmetrical; a 2-way process. And it's massively distributed - control of the "channels" is in the hands of the many, not the few.

Censorship and terrorism, relevant modern history

Yesterday morning I heard Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist at Google and one of the recognised fathers of the internet, talk about the importance of open communications, trust and free speech.

He said there was a big question over how social norms such as acceptable speech would develop. Clearly people need to be discouraged from harassing others, but we must keep perspective as to the actual harm rather than the perceived harm.

He said one of his biggest fears for the internet was that we as a society would over-react and shut down the good stuff in the pursuit to cut out the bad.

He cited the battle against online piracy as an example, "piracy is not good, but breaking DNSSEC is worse."

Of course there's more to internet policy than piracy (as I keep saying). Vint explained how, generally, people who want to control the internet use examples of the very worst human behaviour to justify the need for controls.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ed Vaizey denies Comms Bill green paper delayed till post-Olympics, but sources claim DCMS/No 10 spat over copyright

I have three sources telling three different parts of a tale that seems to indicate the coalition is finally putting its foot down to prevent any further copyright over-reach affecting technology and innovation in the UK.

But I'm hearing a battle in Whitehall is still raging, with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) desperately trying to salvage SOPA-style provisions in official government policy to be announced... at some point this year.

The government is expected to publish its long-awaited Communications Bill green paper this spring. And the Government "means early in 2012" as Ed Vaizey told the Parliament and Internet Conference last October.

"There's a joke in Westminster that spring runs from February to November, but when I say spring I mean spring," said Communications Minister Vaizey in October.

Ed repeated this joke today at the annual Nominate Policy Forum, insisting that the green paper would be published 'soon'.

I asked specifically if that would be before or after the Olympics. "That's a great way of putting it, definitely before," said the Minister. (Before joking that he hadn't clarified which Olympiad he was referring to!)

Ed Vaizey didn't look easy in his speech today, trying to sell his policy as "regulation light" yet taking necessary steps to protect creative content online.  It sounds like he wants SOPA without the controversy.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Security versus freedom, open versus closed

I was shocked and delighted to attend a cyber security summit where delegates didn't focus solely on control mechanisms to provide a secure online environment.

I've never been an out-and-out "hands off the net" activist, my background in communications security working at Motorola and, before that, a private military research company helps me see how formal control structures are helpful in thwarting some threats.

But I'm worried when expensive and intrusive mass surveillance and control systems are heralded as the mainstay in protecting society from any number of threats.

I'm worried because the value of such systems is yet to be proved - especially since technology is evolving so quickly.  Keeping internet control and surveillance systems up to date will likely descend into a costly arms race.

I'm worried that a focus on such systems could come at the expense of developing community approaches to policing and enforcement - traditional methods translated into the digital space.

Cyber detectives hunting cyber criminals, and doing this using the internet in the "normal way" rather than trying to hook in to the fabric of the internet to create a capability that the good guys have and the bad guys don't have.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Combined UK digital economy dwarfs creative sector, time for governments to marginalise copyright lobbyists

I've previously described the disproportionate amount of lobbying hence policy effort governments dedicate to copyright as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on government.

Governments should be focussing on the wider digital economy but focus their efforts instead on one small area: copyright.

They do this because a huge amount of lobbying goes towards pushing the copyright agenda.

Focus on copyright comes at the expense of directing policy resources at other more important areas of digital policy, such as ensuring networks remain trusted and secure.

Today, researchers helped put this in perspective.  The UK digital economy - as in the total value of trade which directly relied on the internet -  was worth £121 billion in 2010.

The digital economy contributed 8.3% of the total UK GDP in 2010, and that is higher than any other nation.

By comparison £121 billion dwarfs both the entire UK film industry (not just the digital distribution), which contributes around £1.6bn per year to UK GDP (source) and global sales of digital music, which are worth $4.6bn annually (£3bn).

Impressively the UK is claiming a third of the share in music download sales (£1bn) so let's be generous and add the value of the GDP contribution of the entire UK film industry to this and estimate digital content to be worth around £2.6bn £6.3bn (see update) per year to the UK.

£2.6bn is just 2% of the total value of the UK digital economy.
£6.3bn is just 5% of the total value of the UK digital economy.

Surely it's now time for the government and parliament to spend 50 20 hours discussing other digital policy issues (e.g. provision of rural broadband, deployment of 4G mobile broadband, online consumer protection, trust, payment methods, cyber fraud, etc...) for each hour spent discussing copyright.

UPDATE 13:05: Thanks to comments I've missed videogames, which seem to contribute around £1bn to UK GDP (source, although 3 years old) and book and print publishing, which from older research contributes around 0.18% to GDP (2004).

Assuming proportions remain approximately the same that would amount to £2.7bn from current GDP from print, and that would be generous since not all of this GDP contribution comes from digital.

UPDATE 13:27: doh! Ok I mixed dollars and pounds when calculating percentage from print. Corrected again.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Private copying levies on digital media make less sense today than ever

A private copying levy is similar to a tax which is required by law to be collected at the point of sale when certain goods capable of storing copyrighted content are purchased.

But it's not a tax because the cash doesn't go to government, it goes usually to one or more collecting societies to be distributed amongst its members.

Members receiving a portion of the levy are typically the creators who contribute to the type of copyrighted work capable of being stored, so e.g. the levy on old school VHS cassettes would go to TV/Film content makers and audio cassettes to musicians.

Digital media is complicated by the fact it can be used to store printed, audio or visual works, but that doesn't stop a levy being imposed and then distributed via multiple societies.

Most EU countries have some kind of blank media levy, as do many countries worldwide.  Notable EU exceptions are UK and Luxembourg.

The principle is sound to a point. Manufacturers of such goods typically profit from consumer demand driven in many cases by private copying of copyrighted films, songs, books etc - so why shouldn't the artists, authors, writers and musicians share in these profits?

The case was perhaps stronger for analogue media because there really was very little else one could do with a C90 cassette.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

On the Open Digital Policy blog: our proposal for a set of standardised personal data licenses

I really don't think I can summarise this any more than suggesting if you're at all interested in personal data and privacy I would be chuffed if you scoot over to the Open Digital Policy Blog and read our proposal for a standardised personal data scheme.

The draft standardised personal data licenses icons. we intend to make extensive use of iconography to aid recognition and protect all icons as our trade marks, licensing them only to companies who agree to certain conditions on their use.  Trade marks are necessary to control how our icons are used. In order to avoid accusations of profiteering, we will hold the trade marks in trust, promising to allow any qualifying international organisation (e.g. such as the W3C – the Worldwide Web Consortium) to take ownership in the event of widespread adoption.  
TM. A visualisation of Privacy Footprint, part of the proposed standardised personal data scheme.  

Monday, 12 March 2012

New UK government transparency advisor Jimmy Wales, if you're reading this...

Jimmy Wales has been appointed a special advisor to the UK government on making public policy decisions more transparent.

The obvious starting point for any transparency drive is Section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act; which, together with similar provisions in Section 36 specifically allow information to be withheld from disclosure if gathered for the purpose of formulating policy or deemed to be prejudicial to 'the conduct of public affairs'.

The rationale goes that companies and their lobbyists are less likely to engage in a frank and open dialogue with government if forced to air their laundry in public.

However, as I've seen with my own eyes, this shield is abused to prevent public scrutiny of 'evidence' presented by lobbyists - 'evidence' which might pass muster of a busy minister and his staff, perhaps not aware of the complexity in a wider debate, but would be shot down in minutes by a panel of qualified experts.

Next I'd suggest Mr Wales takes a look at the closed-door industry meetings driving the digital policy agenda.

I got invited to one after kicking up a fuss, the Minister trumpeted our involvement in a speech in Parliament, saying "hon. Members who are interested in what happened can find out from very public blogs", before closing the door firmly and carrying on as before, despite acknowledging personally the receipt of my letter setting out good reasons to widen participation even further.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Copyright battle turns into an all-out war against your right to create and share your own home-made content

The content industry: attempting to
uninvent the internet piece by piece.
 Microsoft's website as it appeared in 1994
Digital locker services. For many they represent convenience now that much of our digital output is getting too big to send via ordinary email.

Not, however, in the eyes of the big publishers and film studios.  Digital locker services are nothing but leeches cashing-in on their content.

Granted the convenience of digital locker services coupled with a cash reward system used by some could incentivise piracy and is causing a headache for legitimate rights-holders.

It's one thing for investors in creative content to assert their rightful claim over content they own.

But it's truly shocking that they now, in their war on data convenience, seem to be asserting we the general public have no need or right to be creating and distributing our own content.

The BBC today reports legal pressure mounting on Hotfile, in the light of rival Megaupload's closure and arrest of its executives in January.

In the report, Mark Mulligan - a music industry blogger and author of the brand new Media Industry Blog and well-established Music Industry Blog goes to war on our right to host our own content, saying that all uploaded content should be presumed "illegal" until verified:
"If the service providers are serious about wanting to heed the industry's concerns then instead of assuming that all of the content is legitimate until found otherwise, they should actually assume that most of the content is illegal and take action.
He then goes on to ask who creates large high definition video files anyway? (Except, of course, the established professional studios):
"Much of the content on these service is very high quality video files - how many consumers genuinely create large high definition videos of their own and upload them?"
Is he really saying we as ordinary citizens have no right to go out and shoot our own movies in HD and share them with our friends?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Man barred from unsupervised access with own daughter after reporting child porn find to police: important questions

Police could strike a better balance in the drive to protect children by expediting digital forensics

The BBC reports on a disturbing case.  The report goes like this...

A man who was "trying to download music" found he had instead downloaded images of child abuse.  He discusses the find with his wife and they call the police.

Police start an investigation, confiscate the laptop as part of the investigation for "up to a year" and meanwhile, social services impose a ban on any unsupervised access with any child, including his own.

As has been pointed out on Twitter, we don't know the full details of this case. However, details reported as fact by the BBC, which I have no reason to doubt, still raise two important questions.

Firstly, will pointing the finger like this be counter-productive in the fight against the availability of online child porn? Will people be dissuaded from reporting finds to the police, for fear of losing access to their children and having their computer pored over by police for a substantial period of time?

Secondly, is this the right balance between civil rights and in particular the presumption of innocence and the equally important need to protect vulnerable children from potential abuse?

When we talk about balance we tend to think of either/or, but sometimes this is a false dichotomy when other options are available but not considered.

We have two conflicting interests: the right of the father to be treated fairly under law and the right of his children to live free from potential abuse.

The onus on the police and council is to minimise risk to the child whilst respecting as far as possible the rights of the father.  Would it not therefore be more appropriate to expedite the investigation and search of the father's laptop, making the decision to charge or clear the father at the earliest possible opportunity?

This way any child protection order need only be temporary and for the shortest possible time.  Senior police sources tell me of horrendous backlogs in digital forensics - this is potentially the real scandal here.  People's lives are being disrupted for many months and children are potentially being left at risk for lack of digital expertise within police forensics units.


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Digital Economy Act costs sharing, Statutory Instruments and remaining Parliamentary steps explained

Very little meaningful from a civil rights perspective came out of the most recent instalment of the Digital Economy Act judicial review saga; it still leaves the UK with largely unworkable legislation.

However the ruling was interesting to ISPs as it could (read on - there may be a sting in the tail) save them significant money in the long run.

In last year's review, the High Court ruled that internet service providers (ISPs) could not be forced to pay the costs incurred by government and Ofcom in setting up Britain's 3-strikes anti-file-sharing law.  The challenge failed on all other grounds.

Costs of running the Digital Economy Act fall into 3 categories:
  • Qualifying costs amount to the government (ie Ofcom) costs of defining the processes and setting up the bodies necessary to run the notification and punishment system. A response to a Freedom of Information Request filed by me put these costs at around £6m. 
  • Case fees cover the costs incurred when an ISP subscriber appeals an allegation of copyright infringement levelled against them
  • Relevant costs relate to the costs borne by ISPs in despatching a notification letter to an ISP subscriber and maintaining a list known as the "infringement list".
At first Ofcom decided ISPs should pay 25% of all these costs, and copyright owners the remaining 75%.

EU telecom law (the Authorisation Directive) prohibits governments from imposing "administrative charges" on telcos, in order to encourage cross-border competition in the provision of telecommunications services.

The original judicial review found that qualifying costs amounted to "administrative charges" under EU law and therefore it was not lawful to require ISPs to pay any portion.

Today, the Court of Appeal ruled (pdf, paragraphs 99 to 107) that case fees also amounted to administrative charge, and therefore under EU law ISPs cannot be forced to pay any portion of these either.

The net effect of the original judicial review coupled with the most-recent appeal is that copyright owners will likely have to pay 100% of the costs of setting up and running the 3-strikes notification system and appeals, bar a £20 appeals fee that ISP subscribers will have to pay (reimbursable on successful appeal).

But that might not be the end of the story.   ISPs will still have to stomach a portion of their own relevant costs in handling requests made under the Digital Economy Act.

Ofcom's original and subsequently redrafted plans said ISPs should pay only 25% of their own costs, and copyright owners should pay ISPs the remaining 75%.

Whilst the primary legislation in the Digital Economy Act states that such costs should be shared (Section 15), it doesn't put a figure on the proportion, and I'm left wondering whether ISPs could not be forced to pay a higher portion of their own relevant costs to rebalance the funding equation.

In the original Judicial Review ruling, Justice Kenneth Parker noted [para 193]:
"The DEA could have left ISPs to bear such costs entirely and have provided no mechanism for recovering any part of such costs. However, Parliament provided that in fairness copyright owners should reimburse ISPs for a substantial part of the costs incurred by ISPs in discharging their obligations under the DEA"
This leaves the door open for Ofcom to force ISPs to pay more of their own costs.

However the legislation still has a long way to go before it can be passed.  Two statutory instruments known as the Costs Sharing Order and the Initial Obligations Code have still to get through both houses of Parliament and the European Commission.

Under EU telecoms law all legislation that affects service providers must be notified to the Commission.  Legislation sits for 3 calendar months to allow comment or objection from interested parties or member states.

The Costs Sharing Order was first notified to the EC in September 2010 before being re-written to account for the verdict in the original Judicial Review.  It was then submitted to the EC in August 2011 but it is likely to be redrafted again given today's Court of Appeal ruling.

The Initial Obligations Code has never been notified to the European Commission and the last official draft published by Ofcom is 18 months old.

After the Statutory Instruments (SIs) have cleared the EC hurdle they are then laid before Parliament.  In this case both houses are required to voted on both SIs.  It is possible for the public to note objections to a Statutory Instruments to either or both of the Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee and the Joint Committee On Statutory Instruments.

It is possible that the content of the Initial Obligations Code in particular could face a separate legal challenge for its contemptibility with human rights law.

The judge in the original High Court review noted that some of the claims made by counsel for the ISPs could not be verified from the primary legislation alone (e.g. paras 152, 259) and this opens up the possibility that legislation may face further challenges when published.

However, whether any ISPs or any other organisation is prepared to fund such a challenge is different question.


Digital Economy Act Judicial Review mostly fails, but we still don't have workable legislation

Word from the Court of Appeal comes via @OpenRightsGroup. The review has failed on all but one ground, the cost of case fees.  I'll update this post with details here when they're published.

UPDATE 10:42: There really are no relevant details. Sources in court tell me the appeal went along the lines of the review findings last year.  Here's a link to the judgement.

UPDATE 11:36: Hearing from an ISP contact that ISPs may cut their losses on this Judicial Review to pursue a more detailed challenge to the implementation of the Digital Economy Act and in particular a statutory instrument known informally as the Digital Economy Act Initial Obligations Code when it's published, rather than try and appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. I'll try and get confirmation.

UPDATE 13:56: see here for a primer on costs sharing and the next legislative steps.

It is important to remember however that the Government is still struggling to implement the legislation nearly 2 years after it was passed.

Sources very close to the situation tell me the biggest sticking point is how to offer some protection to schools, libraries, cafes, hotels and others those who provide internet access to the public but are not classed as an ISP.

There has been a growing awareness in Government that attempts to make the ISP account holders effectively liable* for copyright infringement over their connection could not only cause a costly administrative headache for public bodies such as schools and libraries, it could also impact the government's drive to bridge the digital divide and get more of the country connected to faster broadband services.

* Lawyers are quick to point out account holders are not strictly liable, but the way the DEA and process of appeal is structured means the onus is on an account holder to prove innocence, which is very worrying.

Ofcom is actively considering plans to open up radio spectrum to allow individuals and small community groups to run wireless hotspots using WiMAX or souped-up WiFi technology.  This so-called "white space" spectrum could be allocated with zero or minimal licensing cost and could be operated by anybody to help improve rural broadband in particular.

But if the owners of such access points become liable for copyright infringement on their connection they will be discouraged from operating such services.  Since this technology is unlikely to ever be profitable enough for a major ISP to operate, the public will lose out.

Schools, libraries, universities and colleges have maintained immense pressure on Ofcom and the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) after highlighting the huge cost of Digital Economy Act compliance to public bodies providing internet access.

And consumer groups such as Consumer Focus and the Citizens Advice Bureau have raised concerns that a £20 fee to appeal a mere allegation of copyright infringement made against the ISP account holder will disproportionately affect low income households, who could be denied access to justice.

Ding dong

I'm told of an ongoing spat between Ofcom and DCMS over whether Ofcom are legally able to make provisions to protect those who re-share an internet connection to the general public.

Ofcom claim that a change to the law is required, whilst DCMS lawyers claim not.

I'm told debate between the Government and the communications regulator Ofcom centres on complex provisions of the Communications Act 2003 and in particular S.403(7) which appears to grant Ofcom the powers needed to make a distinction between types of service providers in relation to how the provisions of the Digital Economy Act apply.

Ofcom however, according to sources, claim that subscribers (end users) cannot be categorised in this way under the provisions of the Communications Act, as the Act applies only to service providers and very few institutions providing public WiFi could ever be classed as a service provider. Therefore a change in the law is required to allow Ofcom to make a distinction between different types of subscribers.

Meanwhile bodies representing libraries, schools and other public bodies are "losing patience" with the failure of government to act to protect public bodies when the legislation eventually becomes live (I'm told the target date for the first infringement notice is now slipping into "mid to late 2013").


Just over 2 weeks to ORGCon 2012

Our friends at the Open Rights Group are holding their 2nd conference on 24th March 2012.

You'll get a whole day of discussion, lectures and seminars on a range of topics related to internet policy and digital rights.

Click here to book tickets!

A few tickets are still available at only £12.50 for Open Rights Group members, £26 for non-members.  If you want to meet up with me on the day, follow @Open_Digital or @JamesFirth on twitter.

Monday, 5 March 2012

This conspicuous parade of victims makes rational policy-making all but impossible

Who could argue against a new law when it sets out to redress a loophole which saw a young woman - or worse, a child - murdered in cold blood?

The assertion is made. Killers could have been stopped had previous trends been noticed, documented, shared with all relevant authorities, neighbours, prospective partners and employers.

New laws are touted as a solution.  The implicit threat, in wheeling-out the memory of the deceased, is that opposition to such laws will violate the memory of the victim, whose family has campaigned ceaselessly for their loved-one not to have died in vain.

Only a heartless unbalanced fool would argue against this legislation.

And the lure for populist politicians is seemingly irresistible. Presented with a ready-made press campaign to demonstrate their party's commitment to protecting the public, how could any Home Secretary ever resist jumping on the bandwagon?

But attaching a tragedy and a human face to a new law doesn't make that law any more worthy than other causes, many of which also result in numerous deaths per year, each victim a faceless statistic to government ministers; road safety being a typical example.

Nor does it somehow make the side effects of the proposals disappear - it just helps a government spin the collateral consequences as necessary and proportionate.

Why is copyright dominating all digital policy debates when powerful copyright provisions exist & sales are booming?

A few weeks ago I went to a Pictfor debate in parliament to discuss competition law in relation to search engines.  Last week I went to a cyber security seminar also held in Parliament.

Two things struck me. (1) These two events were rare for a digital policy agenda and debate calendar seemingly driven by copyright; and, (2) attendees at both events still managed to bring discussion back to copyright - on one occasion identifying themselves as a lobbyist for the copyright industries.

It's short-sighted, senseless and pernicious to view the direct revenue generated by sales of copyrighted content as anything more than just one part of the wider digital economy.

To equate protection of direct revenue from copyright to financial security of our nation or national security  - as some now seem to be doing - is dangerous.

It elevates the business problems of one relatively small industry dealing in entertainment up to a par with genuine national security threats which could e.g. prevent remote medical monitoring equipment or water treatment control systems from functioning properly.

Whilst it's right to be worried about how the creative industries will survive in the digital age, all indicators are that business is booming for a range of digital goods, despite piracy:

Slow innovation in film

Many film distributors are yet to truly embrace legal digital streaming services for the majority of their catalogues and I fully expect films to see similar growth when they do.

Friday, 2 March 2012

SROC moves from .com web domain in protest at jurisdictional over-reach

I blog openly, provide contact details and try to remain as accurate as my source information allows.  I take care to respect copyright despite having a lot to say about reform of copyright.

Whilst I don't expect to ruffle too many feathers state-side, as the US is after all the home of the 1st amendment, I live and work in the UK and expect to abide by UK law.

Importantly I also expect to be judged for my online output by a UK court, should it ever come to that.

US authorities have over the last year or so made several moves to assert a jurisdictional claim over .com, despite this being a domain of global significance popular with websites around the world.

I'm actually relatively comfortable with US authorities seizing control or taking down .com domains when in possession of a valid court order.

Clearly there are some limits to what can and can't be published, and few would argue against a robust system of oversight to remove illegal content which respects due legal process in order to protect free speech and guard against unwarranted take-downs.

However I am worried about moves to force global websites to submit to US law and in particular extradite website owners to the US to face American justice.

Blowing the lid on more secret meetings. Search engines asked to police results, promote 'good' music sites, demote bad

This is exclusive and pretty shocking.

We know laws such as the UK's Digital Economy Act and America's SOPA/PIPA met incredible resistance from the tech industry and internet users, and readers of this blog and Open Rights Group supporters are already aware the UK government has switched tack from legislating to encouraging agreements directly between service providers and copyright owners.

What we didn't know until now is the extent that the UK government and in particular Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, is pressurising search engines to police search results in a way that goes well beyond notice and take-down.

I'm told a consortium of search engines at a meeting on Tuesday were accused of a "retrograde step" after failing to make progress on a proposal by music rights holders for a system to promote "good" music resellers and demote "bad" in the search rankings.

Copyright protection is dominating a digital policy debate that should include so many other important issues across the whole digital economy and general society.

I'm now calling on the UK Government to seriously consider creating a separate, dedicated department with sole responsibility for the internet, removing the clear conflict of interests for a Minister responsible for both the creative industries and the internet.

Such an "office for the internet" would probably best sit in the department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and focus on the economic value to the UK of the internet industry as a whole.

Government should be spending at least as much time time discussing opportunities for the creative industries to embrace new communications technologies rather than restrict them, and host meetings with a wide group of interested parties, not the same old faces singing the same old tune.

Blacklists and white lists

Instead what is being discussed according to multiple sources close to proceedings is a system of blacklists and white-lists to be provided by the music and film studios to search engine operators.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

50p tax: let's have a bit of honesty from the turkeys who, once again, say en masse they don't like Christmas

OK, I get it. Lower taxes mean more money entering the economy and this can in many cases stimulate economic growth.

I agree that lower taxes are generally good for the economy.  I just don't get why tax on a small proportion of high earners is disproportionately damaging to economic growth than general taxation levels.

Once again we see "business leaders" line up in a joint letter to say they don't like paying the new, higher rate of tax.

Only they don't. They scratch around rabidly grasping for a straw to explain how their business has been unable to grow because of the 50p tax rate.

Seriously, do these guys not employ an accountant between them? There's more than one way to pluck a turkey.

There's a slightly radical alternative for owners and major shareholders serious on re-investment in their companies.

Instead of opting to withdraw funds as salary only to be clobbered by the highest rate of tax, they could instead opt for a temporary salary cut, leaving some profit in the company to reinvest.

As a major shareholder they would then see benefit in the long term, as the value of their shareholding increases (if the re-investment was wise and did indeed as create the growth these turkeys claim).

Profits left in the company not drawn as salary would then be taxed not at 50p in the pound but around 25p or less.

Yes, no mention today of the Government's long term plan to reduce corporation tax from 28% to 24% by 2013 - surely this is a growth-friendly policy as it reduces the penalty for companies who leave profits in the company. (Usually only to be withdrawn as dividends!)

Yes I'd like to see tax rates come down to allow more money to re-enter the economy; tax rates for us all, not just the very high earners.


Bootnote: I also assume the turkeys are threatening a mass migration from the UK, but this seems to be a perennial threat so not really worth picking up on.