Is the current debate over digital copyright really just a cover for the extension of Internet Censorship paid for by industry? Ian Grant, in his blog entry “Learning to Love Big Brother” knits together a surprisingly convincing case. I have mixed views.
Until about ten years ago I was proud of the work I did on the private members bill to that extended copyright to cover computer software in the UK. We knew it was not an ideal solution but …. Now I am almost ashamed. There is, however, a relatively simple solution for some of the abuses since. Re-enact some of the key provisions of the Statute of Anne which helped usher in the Age of Enlightenment. I have never understood why the life of copyright should have been extended from 14 years before the industrial revolution, to 42 years for the age of steam and to over 70 years for the age of electronics. Given that we cannot unlaterally escape from the Berne Convention , might not the new Communications Bill (that will update the Digital Economy Act) be used update UK penalties for breach of copyright so that these are draconian for pirating new works (say under five years old) and nominal for those where the work is over 14 years old and/or not available for inspection in the UK Copyright Libraries. Might we not also have a regime akin to that in the Statute of Anne for the mandatory licensing of “out of print” works (e.g. unsupported software) and for suppressed or opportunistic patents, so as to address the problem of Patent Trolls.
Ian also caused me to revisit my past work on digital identities, privacy, surveillance and Internet governance. I looked up my presentation to the Freedom Forum event on November 10th 2000 on “What Price National Security” . The phrase the Forum chose to highlight was: “E-impersonation is going to be the most feared crime in the e-world and the punishment is global credit blacklisting – you could call it e-death.” I said that governments would not be able to get their act together. Industry would have to provide the solution.
Ian’s argument appears to be that they have – and that beneath the candyfloss arguments over piracy and digital identities the e-spooks now have the technology they need to track trace and remove disidents.
But how well does it work?
Compare the scene in the Bourne Ultimatum where the reporter is tracked by surveillance cameras across London to Waterloo Station with the reality around Clapham Junction from 8.00 pm on 8th August, when the shopkeepers started to try to protect their premises, through the arrival of the rioters to the subsequent attempts to use what was left of the video footage in support of prosecutions. Hence my concerns for when the rest of us are left unprotected during the great Olympic lockdown later this year.
On Monday I am due to have coffee with Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch before the Conservative Technology Forum meeting on on-line malpratice. I will ask Nick about their Big Brother Watch routines for accepting donations from those who do not trust the anonymity or security of the on-line world.