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Why blocking Newzbin2 won’t make the blindest bit of difference

[Update, 5th of April 2011: Oh look, the Business Secretary Vince Cable went on record saying that the Government would stop blocking web sites using the SI of the Digital Economy Act. Heh. (Newzbin2 was blocked via legal methods offered through the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act – making that entire equivalent section of the DEA redundant, and also upon further scrutiny, extremely poorly worded. You can also read Justice Arnold’s ruling.)]

A friend emailed me a link to a BBC article 1)“BT ordered to block links to Newzbin 2 web site”, BBC News, July 28 2011 discussing the ‘landmark’ judgment handed down by an (out of his depth?) judge regarding the enforced blocking by BT of Newzbin2 to stop its customers from accessing copyrighted materials in a piratey manner.

Everyone’s dancing around the topic. (I do not advocate piracy as a means to solve the current problems the creative industries face, but I haven’t paid for every single song I’ve ever listened to.) However the older I get, the more I understand about the importance of paying your dues – and understanding the value of a piece of music or film, and understanding why it’s right to pay a fair price for it. I have, quite literally, spent thousands of pounds on my music collection, with a heavy investment into vinyl along with many CDs and even a few C90s 😉 Regrettably I believe this judgment could have serious ramifications for not only the future of entertainment industries but personal rights and freedoms. My email back to my friend turned into somewhat of a long one… And here it is reproduced for your enjoyment.

The Open Rights Group man has it right. It won’t really make a dent in the numbers of people using the services – indeed, I suspect anonymous VPN proxy services (which cost from as little as £3-£5 a month) will get a lot more popular as people realise they can just use these to completely mask what they’re doing with their Internet connections. I already VPN some of my web traffic, for privacy purposes, web development testing or perhaps if I’m just feeling particularly paranoid. 😉

In an email interview before the verdict, Newzbin 2 threatened to break BT’s filters.

“We would be appalled if any group were to try to sabotage this technology as it helps to protect the innocent from highly offensive and illegal content,” said a spokesman for BT.

Emotive language like “highly offensive” doesn’t help – who’s  to say what people find offensive? Is Mary Whitehouse back in charge? I could argue that I find the mass worship of Jesus Christ as a representation of the one true God highly offensive – but they’re never going to even consider a block on Il Papa (Hello Your Holiness, hope you’re doing well! 2)he’s a Friend of the Blog). In the meantime all this does is place increased load on the ISPs – effectively policing what are CIVIL copyright claims from private sector companies – and the end result? Everyone’s broadband becomes more expensive.

The issue of p2p and downloading things for free boils down to something far more fundamental – it’s now a mindset firmly stuck in a subset of society. And who’s to say, taking a broader look at general ‘consumption’ of music and video, that their outlook on the value of recorded music isn’t legitimate? However you look at it, we’ve lost the fight with those people – so let’s move on to the next generation and explain to them in a helpful, unpatronising way why things, people, works of creative and cultural value deserve to be supported and funded through paying a fair price for their creations.

My personal opinion is that if you download music and films which you quite like and enjoy listening to/watching, you should pay a few quid of your hard earned – out of respect for the artists if nothing else! Consider the price of a CD – still about £10, even though the cost of everything else (including the materials to make CDs) has risen steadily with inflation ever since the CD was first introduced. Then, think about how many times you’ll play the CD (dozens of times in the car or the kitchen, probably hundreds of times once you’ve put it on the MP3 player and carry it round with you). Then, think about the dozens of people involved in its production, including production, mastering, engineers, the musicians themselves, studio facilities, label promotion, management, distribution…

Once you’ve thought about that, go take a look at the price of a gig ticket for that artist – probably £20-£40 for most mainstream groups, sometimes more. That £10 CD price suddenly looks like VERY good value for money! And there’s literally thousands of people involved with making a film, how do they pay their rent and electricity bills? The machine of the “industry” obviously tries to maximise its own profits whenever possible but there has to be some kind of infrastructure in place for everyone else to be employed by it. You can’t just have a wifty wafty cloud of disorganised people all just saying “yeah ok, whatever, I’ll do a bit of work here and magically get paid sometime in the future”. I don’t particularly like how some aspects of the music industry work, but it’s a vicious circle (less money’s made, the industries have to try and make quicker and quicker profits with the manufactured bands which inevitably leads to a lack of *artist development* – you could never have someone like Bob Dylan around today, he’d be too expensive to fund whilst he was songwriting and ‘developing’ as an artist).

This could quickly turn into a 1,000 word essay on why I’m so pissed off about the music industry – I think that people who just download everything they ever watch or listen to without ever paying for a single thing are being very disrespectful towards artists and creative individuals who produce the entertainment they’re enjoying. As my boss said to me a while ago, this is the essence of the divide: these people are consumers – they simply gobble up everything they can find without a thought to the sustainability of the approach… Then then bitch and whine when TV shows go under after one series or a band breaks up because they couldn’t afford to live on a musician’s wage. Fortunately there’s still enough respectful CUSTOMERS who understand the value in paying a fair price for what is ultimately a very long-lasting, high quality piece of work. In some respects (and forgive the crude analogy) the creative industries are a little similar to a pension fund (the more people paying in, the less each person has to pay and the more everyone receives at the end).

Blocking newzbin2 will not change the mindset of a consumer, it’ll only set the precedent for them to be taken to court and locked up for downloading a film. Is copyright infringement – a civil offence – akin to a criminal offence such as GBH or fraud? No. Does it therefore merit a similar level of punishment? Absolutely not. This whole issue regarding enforced blocking of sites and services is a very slippery slope; it further reinforces their opinion that Big Content (aka the “MAFIAA” – Music and Film Industry Associations of America, and their European counterparts) are simply trying to sue people into stopping downloading. Then they’ll just go download even more stuff out of spite! This kind of prosecution is also a massive waste of taxpayers’ money.

References   [ + ]

1. “BT ordered to block links to Newzbin 2 web site”, BBC News, July 28 2011
2. he’s a Friend of the Blog

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