Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mandy's Law: Why it's a Very Bad Thing

This post is created from discussions in Twitter with Dorian and others, about Peter Mandelson's so-called "Digital Economy" bill, essentially a Big Media wishlist allegedly concocted on a yacht in Corfu at David Geffen's expense.

Charlie Stross and Steve Lawson have expressed strong opinions on what it's likely to mean for creative artists who aren't megastars. Go and read what they've written.

Some people have dismiss concerns about this bill as pure hysteria and panicky scaremongering, suggesting that if you're not a heavy download, you've nothing to fear. Yeah, they say that about ID cards as well. How many people still buy that one?

Mandy's Law has the potential for enormous collateral damage. For starters, I have no confidence in their ability to distinguish between legal and illegal downloads without generating a great many false positives. While industry apologists claim they're only going to target a small number of heavy downloaders I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if they used the same shotgun approach as they've used with DCMA takedown notices in the past. And I'm sure Blimpy can tell us all about DMCA takedown notices. After some rudimentary traffic analysis they'll just assume everything that appears to be a music file but isn't from some whitelist of industry-approved download sites must be an illegal download. And out will go potentially millions of nastygrams threatening disconnection.

Think I'm exaggerating? I work in the software industry, as a tester. I know all about bugs in complex software, which is more than can be said for a technological illiterate like Peter Mandelson.

It's likely have a chilling effect on MP3 blogging, such as this very blog. MP3 blogging admittedly inhabits a legal grey area, but it's absence surely will limit the exposure of new bands. The false positive risk may even discourage unsigned bands from giving away free downloads, for fear that fans may be disconnected because www.myobscureindieband.com isn't on some secret whitelist.

Of course, for the cartel of big media companies, that's not even an unintended consequence - adding a lot of additional hassle for unsigned bands works very much in their favour.

It's OK for industry shills to claim that this won't happen, but I'm not willing to give sweeping powers to the music biz on a vague promise that they won't be evil. Their past track record means they simply do not have my trust.

I also have a problem with the whole issue of collective punishment and guilty-unless-proved-innocent. The typical filesharer is a kid living with parents, or a perpetually-skint student in a shared house. The threat of collective punishment for entire households effectively conscripts everyone into being unwilling enforcers of an unpopular law. At the risk of breaking Godwin's law, it's the way the Nazis enforced order in occupied France in World War II. Hyperbole, maybe, but when you hear filesharing compared to terrorism...

8 comments:

CaroleBristol said...

Once upon a time they told us that "Bootleg Albums Steal From Bands", then it was "Home Taping Is Killing Music" now it is "Illegal Downloading Is Killing Music".

Music still seems to be carrying on.

The problem, as I see it, is that the official mass-market music, as promoted by the likes of Simon Cowell, is a steaming heap of poo, plus the sheer greed of the multi-nationals who own all the record labels.

Captain Raveman said...

Tim can you link to the petition please?

ejaydee said...

I agree with you on the fact that a sweeping law couldn't work effectively. In my opinion, music downloading for free is such a grey area, I doubt a law can address the problem fairly. There are as many types of downloaders as there are internet users, I wonder what their real target demographic is.
I know someone who has a clear code when it comes to his illegal downloading, but it's still illegal. Maybe we could have a coupon system or something. If you've downloaded X album, and are still listening after a month, you should pay for it. Oh wait, they already have that it's a subscription model. Meh.
Having said that, we've reached a point where a generation of kids could grow thinking that music is always free, and maybe I'm a reactionary, but it doesn't seem right to me.

Now let's all stalk Dorian on twitter...

Tim (Kalyr) said...

This whole thing stinks of media cartels seeking to maintain (or rather restore) their monopoly. If they gave a fuck about 'poor starving artists' they wouldn't have spent the past 50 years systematically ripping off the vast majority of them.

Why Mandelson isn't facing criminal charges for accepting bribes is one of life's mysteries.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

This whole thing stinks of media cartels seeking to maintain (or rather restore) their monopoly. If they gave a fuck about 'poor starving artists' they wouldn't have spent the past 50 years systematically ripping off the vast majority of them.

Why Mandelson isn't facing criminal charges for accepting bribes is one of life's mysteries.

Shoey said...

Well, it's always been the job of Government to take away freedom. Get those festive 'Spill picks in now - it may be the last time. President O has a lot on his plate, so it may be a while before this happens here too - but it will happen.

lambretinha said...

It's the same thing here in Spain (although nobody is proposing anything nearly as drastic as a 3 strike rule here. This is a different sort of country, here they can get away with applying a canon to anything related to the internet, no matter how tenuously, and people will pay). While I agree with ejaydee's concerns (and many public figures' too) about music losing its intrinsic value if things were taken to an extreme and that, in order to create anything, you need an incentive, the truth is that no amount of laws is going to stop the process once it has already started. I have to admit it's incredibly fun to see corporations (record companies in this case... phone companies, retailers, ISP's and many other technological industries are earning loads of money because of what they call "piracy") on the losing end of technological development for once. When science and technology have meant profit for big business, time and time again laws has been passed to allow profit to happen, with little regard to any other consideration. Now, for once, tables are turned, and suddenly science, technology and progress are something to be frightened of...

If it wasn't so funny, I'd be pissed off. Really.

Makinavaja said...

Hey Lambre. You beat me to it. In Spain there's loads of rhetoric but we all know that the prosecutions just won't come because that's the way our "overburdened" (read inefficient) legal system works. We have to put up with the "digital canon" paying a royalty when buying any digital support (CD, pen drive, etc) regardless of the use it's put to. I produce my own material for my work but have to pay a canon on the cd's I then transfer it to. Guilty until proven innocent, as has been said above. This pisses me off, but if Mandy gets his way, I'll probably feel a lot better off than my friends residing in the UK.
As regards MP3 sites like this, under Spanish law, as it stands today, I cannot be prosecuted for anything I post here because I don't stand to make a profit.
Having worked in publishing I am more than aware of the intellectual property issue, but must add that I never saw more (illegal) photocopying of teaching materials than during my time as a teacher in one of Spain's most prestigious publishers. This is a complicated issue, for sure!