Tag Archives: internet

The Lib Dem campaign for internet freedom steps up a gear

If you haven’t already joined the Lib Dems Save the Net Facebook campaign, I recommend you do so.

Meanwhile, an emergency motion has been submitted to Spring conference. Bridget Fox has the details.

I’ve submitted the following questions to the Federal Policy Committee for the morning of conference:

1. What role has the FPC played in formulating the Liberal Democrat response to the Digital Economy Bill?

2. The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party often finds itself having to respond to legislation that the party has little or outdated policy on. What does the FPC do to ensure that the eventual response from the Parliamentary Party is a) the result of as open and democratic a process as possible; and b) adequately consults the views of all stakeholders with an interest in the legislation?

And finally, I’ve written an article on Comment is Free about the Clement-Jones/Razzall amendment:

No doubt Clement-Jones and Razzall felt that making bad less awful was the only responsible thing to do. In fact, forcing us to choose between judges and lawyers having to interpret a bad law and ministers making it up as they go along is no choice at all. After five years of one of the most depressing parliaments in living history, the last thing the Lib Dems can afford to do is to present themselves as the nicer, slightly less unacceptable face of the establishment. Leave that to David Cameron.

Will Lembit have me arrested?

I’ve just updated Prawn Free Lembit with Mr Opik’s latest column from the Daily Sport and it has put me in a bit of a quandary.

You see, by posting that column, I’m breaching copyright. I’m a pretty good boy when it comes to copyright violation generally – unusually for my generation even where music is concerned – but I set up Prawn Free Lembit because I thought these columns ought to see the light of day outside of the confines of a porn-infested and frankly medieval website that doesn’t even have RSS feeds. He’s an elected politician and I think we all have a right to know what he has to say without having degrading images of women shoved in our faces, don’t you think? I don’t editorialise and let Lembit speaks for himself. If it leads to people asking awkward questions about why a man in his forties who owns a pair of trousers would spend a significant part of his working week perving about which “Sport Stunna” he’d like to “elevate” to “high office” (f’narr!), then that’s on him.

However noble my intentions may have been however, it is clear that Lembit has a very black and white view of the matter. Breach of copyright is “theft”, pure and simple. He has lent his support to Peter Mandelson’s plan to cut off people who are caught filesharing illegally and presumably the rozzers will be knocking on my door any minute.

The arguments about why Mandelson’s plans are utterly bogus have been well rehearsed. While I wouldn’t go quite as far as those who favour legalising peer-to-peer filesharing in all circumstances, the government’s disconnection plans would punish the innocent, be impractical in practice and fundamentally miss the point.

The music industry is in the mess that it is in for a very simple reason. It has filched the public and recording artists for decades. This was possible to get away with 20 years ago because technology and IP laws made it easy for them. As a result they could live it large, ply their musicians and useful dupes with drugs and alcohol and indulge their megastars. When the internet came along, instead of waking up to its potential threat to them and adapting, they pretended it didn’t exist for decades. The result was utter contempt by the general public which fuelled the rise of peer-to-peer once the technology came up to speed.

The death of the music industry – which is a real possibility – will not mean the death of music. Music existed before copyright laws and it will exist long after them as well. People won’t suddenly stop making music. What it will probably mean is the death of the superstar. Your online music store will resemble a public library more than HMV. Instead of having a middle man around who decides what music is worth listening to and what category it should be wedged into, we’ll be able to choose from a much wider source. Technology will (has) made garage bands sound as professional as the big labels and marketing costs have levelled out. The Simon Cowells of this world are utterly fucked, which is why his himself has already jumped ship and moved onto TV – and even then the X-Factor band wagon won’t keep rolling forever.

Will it be possible to make money as a musician in the future? It all depends on what your aspirations are. Any halfway successful musician will be able to make several multiples of what I’ll earn in my lifetime, but there’ll be a lot fewer multi-millionaires. You probably won’t ever get that private jet I’m afraid. The simple fact are only so many punters out there and talent is nothing like as hard to come by as Smash Hits and NME led us to believe. They lied.

But is rendering musician to the status of mere vocation such a terrible thing? Money has destroyed so many talents over the years that it is hard to shed a tear for the decline of the superstar. Is it really so wonderful that popular music has become so strongly associated with excess, mental illness, vanity, self-abasement and violence? More musicians earning less money is a scenario in which 99% of us win. It is no coincidence that Wilkinson and Pickett considered a move towards less restrictive IP laws as a crucial step towards engendering a more equal culture in The Spirit Level.

The reason I suspect Lembit does not see it that way is that it is not music he is really defending but the industry which he has courted and been courted by (and indeed courted within) for the past decade.

Oh, and as I have thus far forgotten to post the latest edition of The Show, courtesy of EyeSeeSound.tv, allow me to do so here. It’s the future!

F**k you very very much, Lily Haw-Haw

Good grief. Who put Lily Allen up to this? It has become a cliche to bemoan politicians for not “getting it” but where does one start?

The whole POINT about file-sharing is that it enables artists to by-pass record companies. This massive debt that Allen complains about is part of an old, outmoded business plan. To complain about it is to give the game away about what it is that the music industry is really seeking to defend here.

And mix tapes are crap quality? Oh really? So before the internet we didn’t have vinyl, tape and CDs and had to depend solely on (presumably long wave) radio? Anyone would think “Home Taping Is Killing Music” never happened.

But the worse thing about this article is all the cheap knocking copy aimed at Simon Cowell and designed to position Allen as some kind of edgy artist with street cred. Back in 2006 when she first emerged, all that fake housing estate stuff really grated. I actually bought her last album because I thought she’d finally stopped being such a fake. I wish I’d downloaded it illegally now.

If you want to listen to good, unsigned and independent musical acts that don’t have rich mummies and daddies on hand to get them started, I thoroughly recommend you check out EyeSeeSound (the new name for The 411 Show):

The Lib Dems don’t need a blogging strategy. They need a Lembit strategy

Alex Singleton has written a wonderfully charmless little attack post on about the state of Lib Dem blogosphere (it is always nice to find an article like this has been written by someone I have already dismissed as an idiot).

Leaving aside the usual crap about the Lib Dems not standing for anything (bizarrely, he seems to think that Cameron’s Conservatives are a good example of a consistent party – clearly he has never read ConHome – in particular he clearly hasn’t read this article about the Tory’s own internet fail), one can marvel at the sheer ignorance about the subject matter in question. Describing Lib Dem Voice and Lib Dem Blogs as “rivals” is simply gigglesome. It is as if he has never come across the idea of an aggregator before (let alone the fact that Ryan Cullen is in fact the sinister puppetmaster pulling the strings behind the scenes of both websites). He cites Guido Fawkes for attacking Labour’s blog activities, yet seems to fundamentally misunderstand Paul’s real complaint. As I understand it (and I did speak to him on the topic last week), the Guido analysis is that any blogging strategy is fundamentally a waste of time because it will only reach out to the usual suspects.

I broadly agree with that, which is why I’ve never really gone in for this whole puffing about the party via my blog thing. This blog is a way for me to develop my thoughts, to mouth off and to relieve tension (a bit like wanking). Engaging in a dialogue with similarly interested individuals is a plus. Proselytising isn’t even on the radar.

There are good examples of blogging to the unconverted, but you won’t find them at the “top” of the blogosphere but rather in the long tail. Take Mary Reid for example. A great community blog with crossover appeal between political hacks and Kingston upon Thames residents. Mary’s blog works in that way because Mary gets that engagement is about more than blogging – she’s one of the party’s (indeed the UK’s) leading e-mancipators. But you won’t see her at the top of the Wikio rankings or the Total Politics league table any time soon – to do that she would have to make compromises, talking to the political hardcore at the expense of local residents. That would lead her to disengage and ultimately be self-defeating. But Alex Singleton would of course approve.

Generally speaking it is fascinating how journalists consistently fail to “get” the internet, even at its most basic. A couple of weeks ago, a PR Week journalist by the name of David Singleton (coincidence?) reported that the Lib Dems are going to hold a “bloggers’ summit” at Cowley Street on 28 March. Not so – the party is holding a coders’ summit, a far more productive exercise. And of course, there is this incessant and persistant attack on Twitter – which sounds remarkably similar in tone to the incessant and persistant attack by the mainstream media on blogging before every journo and his/her dog started blogging. The phenomenon of mainstream journalists confusing the medium for the message is one of the great mysteries of the age (perhaps it is something Charlie Brooker should investigate on his new Newswipe series).

Are the Lib Dems getting everything right with their internet strategy? Of course not. I would suggest the following:

  • The party doesn’t send out anything like enough emails and the emails it does send tend to be a bit haphazzard. I’m a bit of a social bookmarking evangelist myself, but even I would question the point in encouraging everyone on our email list to help promote the latest Nick Clegg video via Digg. By all means put Digg buttons everywhere, but every second you spend explaining it to the general public is a second you should be communicating the party’s vision and policies.
  • Every party campaign and initiative should be focussed around collecting email addresses (legally of course). Never mind Digg, we should be letting individuals forward information about our campaigns to their address books in a way that is now old hat on sites such as Avaaz.
  • With the Liberal Youth currently mid-nervous breakdown, it is time for the party to make a strategic decision about how it intends to communicate with young people. For years now, it has tended to be left for the youth wing to organise. That was fine when they were the innovators (launching scraptuitionfees.com for instance), but they’ve been bungling it for years now. Following on from Alix Mortimer’s seminal piece last week, it is probably time a group of 20-30 somethings got together and had a serious chat about an alternative that isn’t modelled around a quaint 19th century private members club but rather is a serious attempt to create a liberal grassroots movement that is has strong ties to, but ultimately independent of, the Lib Dems.

Finally, if there is to be a Lib Dem blogging strategy, then the thing it should be focussed around is building up our existing personalities’ web presence. At the start of this year, I avowed a wish to see Lembit Opik start blogging. I’m serious. Lembit’s claim that turning up on light entertainment programmes (catch him tonight on Ant and Dec) helps him reach out to people the rest of the party doesn’t reach is a perfectly sound argument but is poorly executed. Imagine what a plus it would be if he gave people who had seen him on these programmes a place to go; a website which bridged his particular obsession with celebrity and politics? Sadly, he is so steeped in denial that he will no doubt assume this constructive criticism is yet another “pernicious” attack on him.

To a degree, the same could be said about Vince, although his particular brand of personality lends itself better to helping to promote the party. But if you think the party’s success is dependent on having yet another blog to feed the obsessives, you are so wrong you ought to begin a career as a Telegraph journalist.

In the name of all that is decent – don’t let X-Factor steal the Christmas Number One!

Just watched Alexandra Burke’s massacre of Hallelujah on YouTube. What a travesty of a debacle. Is it too much to ask to have just a handful of songs not rendered into lowest common denominator soul pop pap? Why does everything have to be Mariah Careyised? Good gracious. This is how it should be done:

If there is any justice in the world, Burke will be denied the Christmas number one. Now, I’ve looked into this, and apparently you don’t rig the singles chart these days by charting an expedition down to Woolies any more (good thing too, all things considered); you do it through use of teh wireless interwebs. And at 79p a time, its like rummaging through the remaindered singles in Woolies but with a reasonable expectation that you can get something rather better than Doop.

The only question is, which record? Personally I will be limiting myself to two, taking part in the predictable Rickroll (go with the Zeitgeist) and helping to support the effort to get Jeff Buckley in the top spot. I figure it can’t hurt to back a couple of horses – getting X-Factor down to number three would be soooo sweet.

You have your instructions – hop to it!

Strictly correct

This article is entirely uninteresting. I only stumbled across it by chance. But one thing about it did excite me: at the bottom there is the following statement:

An earlier version of this story mistakenly suggested that British programmes were responsible for 53% of global television output. The figure actually relates to the increase in sales of British format ideas.

So what you might say. The BBC made a mistake, happens every day. So what? The BBC made a mistake and acknowledged it, instead of simply changing it and airbrushing the mistake out of history.

Is this a one-off or a change in policy? I’ve not noticed any other acknowledgements like this.

It may be sad to get excited by this, but the BBC’s practice of maintaining they are always right, at all times, even when they are totally wrong, is one of the main things that enrages me about it. I’m delighted that after all the Stalinist airbrushings, we are finally starting to see a chink of glastnost.

See also Mark Pack’s take on bloggers’ reporting standards versus traditional media.

REVEALED: the Lib Dem Hive Mind – first pictures

The more eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that I’ve replaced my Politigg buttons with LibDig buttons. Built by LibDem codebodger Ryan Cullen, LibDig has the potential, in my opinion anyway, to be the biggest thing to happen to the Lib Dem Blogosphere since LibDemBlogs (which Ryan also built).

The beauty of LibDemBlogs, unlike anything else out there, is it’s democracy. Anyone who is a party member can have their feed included in the aggregator and as such unknowns can become must reads literally over a couple of weeks. The downside is that it does not seperate the wheat from the chaff, or perhaps somewhat more positively, of highlighting the best of the Lib Dem blogs. That function has been done by Stephen Tall with his weekly Golden Dozen, but even that has its disadvantages as Stephen himself has ruminated about on more than one occasion. It only highlights the most read, which is not neccessarily the best (as someone who has gamed the system simply by using “EXCLUSIVE” in a blog post on more than one occasion, I can testify to that). LibDigs is designed to complement LibDemBlogs rather than replace it by making it easier to find the “best” but in an equally democratic way. I hope that if it proves to be a success, Stephen will start using it for the basis of his five “recommended” posts.

So LibDig is about lauding the best of the Lib Dem blogosphere, but fundamentally it can also be used to recommend anything out there on the internet (Ryan has already built a bookmarklet to make this as simple as possible). And because its membership is restricted to party members (which – another plus – means you only need to use your login.libdems.org.uk login and don’t need to go through yet another registration process), what that means is that over time it can be used to build up a map of what Lib Dems consider to be the best of the internet.

For me, and I suspect many others, that is useful because I’m always looking for a good way to both find out what’s out there and to put things out myself. All social bookmarking websites are only as useful as who is using them. The problem I have with Digg is that its pool is so enormous I don’t get a look in. The problem with Politigg is that it is predominently used by rightwingers with their requisite obsessions about the beastliness of Gordon Brown, the EU and English Parliaments. I’d rather see what people with a similar political outlook to me consider to be important.

So thanks again to Ryan for building it, and I hope as many people as possible out there will begin bookmarking with it and adding LibDig buttons to their blogs (it has already been integrated with LibDemBlogs, LibDemVoice and FlockTogether which should give it a good kickstart). I’m just a little disappointed he didn’t use my suggestion of having a special section about the US Presidential Race called LibDigOnAPig.

Scrabulous and IP Wars

When I twittered Rory Cellan-Jones to ask why he didn’t mention Wordscraper in his blog post about Scrabulous, he replied “cos i couldn’t be bothered!” Years from now, when British journalism has finally breathed its last, this phrase will be engraved on its tombstone.

The thing is, the Wordscraper thing is about the most interesting thing about this whole sorry saga. Cellan-Jones misses the point. Badly. While Scrabulous did indeed cross the line by using the same look as Scrabble and using a name that was far too close to a trademarked property, the fact is you can’t copyright an idea and they have been free to set up an almost identical game.

Intellectual property law is at its murkiest when it comes to games. History is littered with people who sold their ideas to companies before their games made it big, least of all Scrabble-inventor Alfred Butts. How do you make money out of a boardgame when people can replay it countless times? Ironically, the answer that Mattell and Hasbro have come up with is to produce a whole range of merchandise. You can buy the official Scrabble dictionary of course, and a special turntable for your board. You can get the deluxe edition and if you want a really big game why not try Super Scrabble (unbalanced in my view)? In a hurry? Try Scramble. On the move? Try Travel Scrabble. They’ve even produced a pink edition to raise money for breast cancer research. Scrabulous hardly dented that market – if anything it helped it.

The point is, they’ve already realised that the real money to be made is not in the game itself but in creating a range of branded tat for the fans to buy. With that in mind, getting Scrabulous banned looks like a pretty bad business move. It probably won’t cost them much, but it has created a lot of ill will and has been built around getting people to sign up to their own, flash heavy and vastly inferior Facebook app. Meanwhile, the Agarwalla brothers appear to have got away with it. The big guys may have won, but it is a pretty empty victory.

Ultimately, this isn’t how big businesses are going to survive in the global internet marketplace. The Agarwalla’s may have overstepped the mark, but it isn’t hard to stay on the right side of the law. Frankly, if Mattel and Hasbro had any sense, they’d encourage developers to compete to produce the best internet version of the game, offering a license that would allow people to publish the game with their blessing, so long as it included a prominent link back to the official website (admittedly, contractually they may be prevented from doing this even if they wanted do but given how long it took their developers to produce a Facebook app and the poor job they made of it, it looks like we can safely add this to their list of cock ups). Think of the free advertising! Ironically, at a different end of the empire, Hasbro has been experimenting with something very similar. Their Wizards of the Coast publishing arm, which produces Dungeons and Dragons, positively encourages other publishers to use their system (albeit with restrictions, something which has admittedly caused some bad feeling). The result was to take a failing brand and catapult it right back to the top of the industry.

Not only are intellectual property laws becoming increasingly hard to enforce, in many ways they are becoming a serious hindrance to making money, which is what they exist to do in the first place. Properties such as boardgames that were devised in the middle of the 20th century (and superheroes for that matter) are a particularly interesting cultural battleground because to those of us who have grown up with them, they feel like public property. Ultimately, this becomes a question about who owns popular culture. The corporates won’t be allowed to win that battle, whether they want to or not.

Child porn, cartoons and unintended consequences

Everyone hates child porn, right? So, superficially, who could possibly object to government proposals to “help close a loophole that we believe paedophiles are using”?

The problem is twofold however. Firstly, what the government is planning to do is “create a new offence for the possession of non-photographic visual depictions of child sexual abuse.” From reading the consultation paper, this would appear to exclude the written word and apparently this will exclude any “items of genuine historical interest” – so that’s Romeo and Juliet and the Gospels saved then. But everything else is for the pot. Last time I looked that would include a lot of anime and manga.

Secondly, the Ministry of Justice’s “justification” for this is as follows:

We are unaware of any specific research into whether there is a link between accessing these fantasy images of child sexual abuse and the commission of offences against children, but it is felt by police and children’s welfare organisations that the possession and circulation of these images serves to legitimize and reinforce highly inappropriate views about children.

In other words, they have no grounds for doing this whatsoever and don’t even know whether it would be counter-productive (i.e. are paedophiles using visual representation of child abuse as a substitute for the real thing), but they are going to do it anyway.

This has bad law written all over it. This is an explicit attempt to legislate against thoughtcrime and “yuk”.

I mentioned manga above. Comics have regularly fallen foul existing obscene publications legislation and while such attempts often fail if contested the lack of money sloshing about in the industry (as opposed to, say, cinema) means that there is a tendency to play safe. All it would take is an over-zealous police chief to launch a couple of dawn raids on his local Borders with the active support of the Daily Mail and the whole industry would go into a tailspin. We’ve been here before.

The consultation paper also includes this section which, again superficially, sounds quite scary:

Technological advances mean that current software can allow a user to photograph an image (or download one onto a computer) and manipulate it to look like a drawing, a tracing, a painting or cartoon. It is possible to manipulate a real photograph (or video recording) of real child abuse into a cartoon or drawing format, be it still or animated. In that scenario the image/s would appear to be merely a fantasy cartoon or drawing, etc, but would in fact be a distinct record of an actual abusive and illegal act. Yet under current legislation, while possession of the original images of child sexual abuse would be illegal, it would not be illegal to make and possess these cartoon or “fantasy style” images, and they would not be subject to forfeiture by the police.

It may, in some circumstances, be possible for the police to re-engineer the resultant “fantasy style” image to discover the original indecent photograph. In this case a prosecution under POCA 1978 could follow. However, if the process was unavailable and the original indecent
photograph, or convertible data, remained undiscovered, i.e. if the “fantasy style” image had been forwarded on or simply printed as a hard copy, then it would not be possible to prosecute. In addition, the images would not be subject to forfeiture and would remain in circulation.

Note that this is carefully worded to NOT suggest that this has ever actually been done or even that police have come across material where this may have been done. And why would anyone do it? The purpose of filming pornographic images is to give the viewer a sense of reality. Making it look unreal to such an extent that it would be literally impossible to tell if it was real or a drawing would defeat the whole point of the enterprise. And if technology really did advance to such a stage (we’re talking about ever paedo having the skill and resources of Industrial Light and Magic at the click of a mouse key), why would anyone go to the risk of filming an actual act of child abuse when they could simply replicate it artificially.

The bottom line is we can’t legislate for every single hypothetical science fiction scenario. On the other hand, if we do legislate, we should perhaps consider what is going on, right now. Yet I can’t find anywhere in this consultation paper any reference to “second life”, “avatar”, “role play”, “virtual reality” or “MMORPG” despite the fairly obvious implications. Is every avatar in a school uniform going to be banned?

I want to hear a compelling argument backed by strong evidence, not rumour and speculation, before I will consider a law to be necessary. In lieu of I hope the Lib Dems in Parliament will give these proposals short shrift.