Last Thursday the Minister of Communications, Ed Vaizey, chaired a round table on music licensing and the internet.
Present were the largest consumer ISPs, ISPA, Google and Yahoo together with senior figures from the Internet, music, film and sports sectors. Issues discussed included the development of the Digital Economy Act, the complexity of music licensing (scalability, costs for both ISPs & rights holders) and whether ISPs could do more with respect to sites that promoted illegal downloading (e.g. search engine rankings, blocking).
The Minister encouraged participants to further discuss and work on these issues and encouraged ISPs and rights holder to explore the possibility of bundled music deals as this would be the easiest way to satisfy consumer demand and provide an alternative to pirated music downloads. It is likely that a follow-up meeting will take place in the new year to update the Minister on the process that may have been made by this time.
I fear that it is all too easy for politicians to latch on to the notion of being able to control and block the internet. This idea is also being floated in relation to other areas such as the case where Ed Vaizey’s predecessor Stephen Timms was attacked by an assailant apparently influenced by radical websites and who wanted to punish Mr Timms for voting in favour of the Iraq war.
The Internet Watch Foundation is always cited as a perfect example of how internet blocking can work. The IWF provides ISPs with a list of websites containing illegal child abuse material. These sites are reported to the IWF by general internet users and by ISPs themselves. ISPs then implement blocking techniques (there are various) to prevent their customers from being able to access these sites.
Unfortunately although this sounds great in practice it doesn’t really work. Sure joe public is prevented from accidentally accessing such sites but the dedicated sicko can easily find ways around the blocking. Just like it will be impossible to block the millions of web pages out there relating to how to use Bit Torrent and other file sharing technologies to download copyrighted material. It is too big a job.
And this is aside from the key question of where do you draw the line? At the extreme end of the spectrum we could find the ConDem government banning access to Labour Party websites. OK sounds unlikely doesn’t it but how about a left wing revolutionary group promoting violent agitation? Hmm maybe? Where is the line in between?
Hopefully you can then begin to understand the context of why we shouldn’t let politicians decide to try and manipulate the internet for what is essentially the private gain of an industry sector they have taken a pet interest in.
This is nothing new. In fact I periodically write posts on this subject. The problem is that it is a constant battle and in the interest of the freedom and healthy growth of the internet we need to keep waving the flag.