Today’s decision by the High Court to force BT to block access to a website has been greeted with both derision and jubilation on both sides of the copyright debate. But one thing must be clear - it is not the role of the courts to dictate the terms of what can and cannot be viewed by British people online.
The judge leant heavily on the fact that BT, as a service provider, had ‘actual knowledge’ of the material being transmitted. BT’s previous actions back in 2002 when it threatened to both cut off and throttle customers it believed were infringing copyright (not to mention it’s dabble with Phorm) didn’t help its case - but the latest development is far more significant.
ISPs have relied on the argument that they are not responsible for the actions of the end user (the ‘mere conduit’ defence) and this has been the rationale for campaigns against ISP intereference in connections and the throttling of bandwith. This argument did not fly in court.
Quite worryingly, Judge Arnold also said he believed site-blocking was proportionate, with the Human Rights Act’s Article 1 – which protects the property rights of creators – outweighing Article 10’s rights of free expression.
Following today’s ruling, the legal team acting for the six Holywood studios have said they intend to apply for the same injunction to other ISPs. BT have yet to say whether they will appeal.
This entire debate - as I wrote earlier in the week - has taken place far from public scruitiny, or indeed political leadership. This ruling adds more urgency for the need for a public debate and real discussion.
It is also with a deep sense of irony that on the same day as the BT ruling, a report was leaked detailing how those using pirating sites are far from the parasites they are often portrayed as and are infact good consumers. The report found “pirate site users to buy more DVDs, visit the cinema more often and on average spend more than thir ‘honest’ counterparts at the box office.”
Yet again, we see the industry old-guard taking a punitive and retrograde approach to copyright, dogmattically using every legal tool at their disposal to protect a business model that is undergoing a slow, tortuous death.
I seem to be writing a great deal at present about Britain’s future as a digital knowledge economy and how frequently it seems the ‘establishment’ , be that Whitehall, the Courts or classical business models, risk undermining the transition to this new economy with their actions.
One thing is for sure - the longer rights holders try to hold back the tide of the new industrial revolution, the more likely it is that when the new markets emerge, it won’t be those companies reaping the rewards.
Posted: July 28th, 2011
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Yesterday’s news that Amy Winehouse had been found dead was a very sad moment by any measure. The all too soon death of such a talented artist may have not been entirely unexpected, but the media reaction was perhaps more inevitable - in death, as in life, Ms Winehouse remains a huge media draw - as the scrum of photographers and TV crews outside her Camden home demonstrates.
In the current climate, the situation also raises some very awkward questions about the role of the emergency services. The news was public literally minutes after her body was found, and I myself had an email from a national newspaper asking for photos from Wednesday’s iTunes show - now Amy’s last public appearance. I understand her father, Mitch, found out about the news when a reporter called him.
It has long been the case that newspapers pay for tip-offs in these circumstances, and given recent events I cannot help but wonder whether the ongoing investigation into information being sold to reporters should be widened to cover this kind of tip-off.
We now know her body was discovered at 3.54pm and by 5.46pm the Associated Press was tweeting the news. By that time, the story would have had to be sourced and confirmed, so I expect AP was aware of the news some time before then. According to a Metropolitan statement: “We were called by London Ambulance Service to an address in Camden Square shortly before 16.05hrs following reports of a woman found deceased. On arrival officers found the body of a 27-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene.”
The sight of a body being removed from the flat in full view of an organised and very busy media area is something that I myself found very uncomfortable - and I say that as a press card carrying photographer.
However, the possibility that someone profited from discovering the body of a dead woman - who happened to be in the public eye - in the course of performing their duties as a part of emergency service should trouble us far more than allegations of phone hacking.
The disclosure that the Government is actively discussing web-blocking will come as no surprise to many following the debate – but the fact that the confirmation had to be secured through an FOI request should be of real concern.
The inclusion of the Digital Economy Act in the wash up dramatically curtailed public debate around the significant powers contained within it. Whatever your views on the copyright and civil liberties issues involved, it was an affront to the democratic process for such a piece of legislation to be rushed through far from the glare of public scrutiny. Furthermore, the resulting legislation suffered massively from a lack of input and debate, in an area of policy that is absolutely central to Britain’s future as a digital knowledge economy.
It should be deeply troubling that the web blocking – and associated issues of net neutrality – are being pursued in a similar fashion. It appears that the rights holders group (which includes the BPI, UK Music, the Publishers’ Association and the Premier League; plus Google, Yahoo! BT, Virgin and TalkTalk) is already setting the narrative for the debate, with minimal input from outside groups.
There are a myriad of technical issues, civil liberties questions and economic development concerns associated with web blocking and the state taking on a role of internet censorship, many of which will be discussed on this blog in future.
However, the pressing challenge is simply to open up the debate on web blocking before it is too late and vested interests once again prevail.
While the news that Tinie Tempah has been nominated for the Mercury Prize should ordinarily set the internet alight with vitriolic fury, the Murdoch/Scotland Yard appearances in Westminster today has somewhat stolen the limelight.
Alas, the government comms machine does not stop - with some rather interesting announcements coming out of Whitehall in the hours (and indeed, minutes) before the big Rupert and James show.
They included a brilliantly ironic statement - made almost at the same time as John Yates was alleging that his offer of a Prime Ministerial briefing on phone hacking was turned down -about Government transparency.
HM Treasury (1.24pm)
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister for the Cabinet Office today published a new Code for corporate governance which will apply to central government departments and will help enhance their transparency and accountability.
Department of Health (11.10am)
NHS patients will have more freedom to choose where they go for their healthcare from April 2012, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced today.
HM Treasury (10.55am)
The Government will start formal consultations on increasing public service pension contributions in 2012-13 by the end of this month, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said today, as he set out plans for talks on reform to continue into the autumn.