net.wars: Develop in haste, lose the election at leisure
by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 30 August 2009
Well, this is a first: returning to last week's topic because events have already overtaken it. Last week, the UK government was conducting a consultation on how to reduce illegal file-sharing by 70 percent within a year.
We didn't exactly love the proposals, but we did at least respect the absence of what's known as "three strikes" – as in, your ISP gets three complaints about your file-sharing habit and kicks you offline. The government's oh-so-English euphemism for this is "technical measures". Activists opposed to "technical measures" often call them HADOPI, after the similar French law that was passed in May (and whose three strikes portions were struck down in June); HADOPI is the digital rights agency that law created.
This week, the government – or more precisely, the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills – suddenly changed its collective mind and issued an addendum to the consultation (PDF) that – wha-hey! – brings back three strikes. Its thinking has "developed", BIS says.
Is it so cynical to presume that what has "developed" in the last couple of months is pressure from rightsholders? Three strikes is a policy the entertainment industry has been shopping around from country to country like an unwanted refugee. Get it passed in one place and use that country a lever to make all the others harmonize.
What the UK government has done here is entirely inappropriate. At the behest of one business sector, much of it headquartered outside Britain, it has hijacked its own consultation halfway through. It has issued its new-old proposals a few days before the last holiday weekend of the summer. The only justification it's offered: that its "new ideas" (they aren't new; they were considered and rejected earlier this year, in the Digital Britain report (PDF)) couldn't be implemented fast enough to meet its target of reducing illicit file-sharing by 70 percent by 2012 if they aren't included in this consultation.
Why does time matter? No one believes that the Labour government will survive the next election, due by 2010. The entertainment industries don't want to have to start the dance all over again, fine: but why should the rest of us care?
As for "three strikes" itself, let's try some equivalents.
It seems unlikely that any court would sentence such a fraudster to live without an electricity supply, especially if they shared their home, as most people do, with other family members. The same goes for the telephone example. And in the first case, such a person might be banned from driving – but not from riding in a car, even the getaway car, while someone else drove it, or from living in a house where a car was present.
Final analogy: millions of people smoke marijuana, which remains illegal. Marijuana has beneficial uses (relieving the nausea from chemotherapy, remediating glaucoma) as well as recreational ones. We prosecute the drug dealers, not the users.
So let's look again at these recyled-reused proposals. Kicking someone offline after three (or however many) complaints from rightsholders:
All of these effects are profoundly anti-democratic. Whose government is it, anyway?
Technorati tags: democracy
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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).