Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I wish Stephen Fry would mind his own business

Those of you who've been following for a while, who know my interests, and have invested a couple of points in observation skills, may have noticed that I didn't take part in the web-wide brouhaha over Section 92A of our shiny new copyright law. Those who did take part, however, will be celebrating now, as yesterday the government announced it was scrapping the ballyhooed provision.

As an activist, you might think I'd be pleased with the victory. But as a rational observer, I think it's the wrong victory. This was a battle that should never have been fought; indeed, it wasn't really a battle at all, since the government itself was practically sponsoring the opposition to the measure. Now that it's been "won", I don't know what the political fallout will be.

For those who haven't been following: according to its opponents, the provision in question "calls for internet disconnection based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up to court scrutiny". "Three strikes", it was called. "Guilt on accusation", it was called. The campaign against it went viral. It's been all around the 'net, attracting support and celebrity endorsements from random publicity whores such as Stephen Fry.

In fact, the law didn't say any of this. What the law said, for those of us who took the time to read it, was:
  1. An Internet service provider must adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the account with that Internet service provider of a repeat infringer.
  2. In subsection (1), repeat infringer means a person who repeatedly infringes the copyright in a work by using 1 or more of the Internet services of the Internet service provider to do a restricted act without the consent of the copyright owner.
Not a word about "three strikes". Not a word about how "guilt" should be determined. If an ISP wanted to set up a full tribunal system and bill accusers for the cost of investigating false complaints, there's nothing to say they can't. They just couldn't be bothered.

And now the government - which had no investment in the law anyway, since it was its predecessor that passed it - has decided to "give in". (Big surprise there, since the prime minister had already gone on record as calling the law "draconian".) A popular move, which has earned it some good publicity.

But what will it cost us?

Now we, the unwashed, copyright-infringing, freetarded masses have won a victory against Big Business. We've thumbed our little Kiwi nose at Hollywood and shown them that we're not just another state to be pushed around at whim. And now the content industry is going to be back with its counter-proposal. Its compromise. To be embedded, perhaps, in the "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement", which is being drawn up in secret (from us, the public), but with full input from the Big Content industry.

What price now, our chance to negotiate proper restrictions for "digital rights management" measures? To say nothing of more far-reaching reforms, such as removing "copying" from the list of restricted acts entirely. We've shot our bolt, we've won our "victory", and never has it felt more hollow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good interpretation.