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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The missed opportunity in the closure of torrent tracker UK Nova

The closure of yet another website offering copyrighted TV content for free is no longer news.

Earlier this month, Surfthechannel owner Anton Vickerman was sentenced to 4 years in jail by Newcastle Crown Court.

Two things are interesting about Vickerman's case: firstly, it was a private criminal prosecution brought by UK trade body FACT, the Federation Against Copyright Theft, after the Crown Prosecution Service had previously declined to mount a public prosecution.

Secondly, Surfthechannel hosted no infringing content itself, only links to infringing content hosted elsewhere; hence Vickerman was convicted of conspiracy to defraud rather than copyright infringement, the argument being that his website incited others to commit copyright infringement, thereby depriving legitimate copyright owners revenue.

FACT were able to show legitimate owners were deprived of revenue whilst Vickerman profited through adverts hosted on his site.  Fraud.  Bang.

I don't necessarily agree that Vickerman deserved 4 years jail for his crime, but I'm more comfortable with this prosecution than I am about, say, the ongoing extradition of Sheffield student Richard O'Dwyer to the US for his role hosting TVShack - a one-time rival to Surfthechannel.

We can and should prosecute UK web users here in the UK.

But the closure this week of UK Nova is noteworthy as the website's owner took what they claim to be a highly ethical stance to the torrents they tracked on the site.

Like Surfthechannel, TVShack and countless other sites, UKNova did not itself host copyrighted content.  It hosted links to content elsewhere; in UK Nova's case these links were bittorrent trackers.

Depending on which side of the fence you sit in the great copyright wars of the new millennium, the concept of ethical copyright infringement might raise an eyebrow or two.

Ethical as in Co-op banking, or ethical as a kind of digital Robin Hood, stealing from the rich?  Robin Hood could be justified in helping the poor eat, but how can you justify stealing copyrighted content to give to those who can't afford it??

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Freedom of speech: 'freedom from', 'freedom to' and protection of the individual

A couple of high profile incidences of Twitter and Facebook nastiness and it certainly feels like there's a diverse chorus questioning whether we shouldn't turn our backs on the principle of free speech and have the state regulate what we can and can't say.

If you've had your commitment to free speech challenged after seeing how low some can go when abusing the power of online communication then you're not the only one.

Myself an avid user of forums and chat rooms in my childhood (pre-dating the WWW) all the way through to the mass market tools we have now I've seen my fair share of (and perhaps caused the odd) bitter online feud.

People say some pretty foolish shit when they [think they] are anonymous.  If you ever tried CB radio in the 80's you'll know where I'm coming from... (Has the situation on the airwaves improved in the last twenty years?)

Most right-minded folk don't mean; well not literally, at least; what they say or type in anger.  They mean to hurt (psychologically), but they don't mean to enact the physical threat.