Mandelson Overturns Digital Britain

The government have the unenviable task of attempting to please everyone, however yesterday they appear to have failed spectacularly, and leading the way was Lord Mandelson. Yesterday he overturned the recommendations in the Digital Britain report – a year of consultations and debates down the drain – and stated simply that we need to move fast to stop filesharing. Moving fast means that rather than mess around with silly things like, courts, trials and rights we simply disconnect anyone accused of filesharing.

Maybe he was in a go getting mood after his holiday with David Geffen, record company billionaire. I know spending time out on a yacht with billionaires gets me back in the zone. Mandelson has denied that his coming back from his hols’ with a record executive, clutching a declaration of  war against piracy is linked… because if it were the case then surely he’d admit it. Apparently his change of stance is based on an intensive lobbying campaign from influential figures in the media industry… which is COMPLETELY different from spending time with ‘influential-figure-in-the-media-industry-David-Geffen’, so I’m cool with that.

As not all of us have luxury yachts and lobbying groups to make Mandelson do what we want, those who would prefer something resembling democratic process will have to make do with an opposition coalition formed on self interest.

Our strongest force is the ISPs who will protect consumers because it’s financially better for them to do so. If these laws come in they will have to spend a great deal on monitoring us (the amount of detail required to ascertain if data packets are copyrighted data packets is enormous), more on processing any claims, and will then have to deal with cutting off their own customers. I only have a GCSE in business studies but even that tells me that having customers is better than not having customers.

Another perhaps powerful opposition is the Tories and LibDems who have jumped on this as another sign of incompetent Labour, running with it as a mud clod for the general election; whether you like them or not they’ll also be useful.

Last but certainly not least we also have those working slightly more altruistically, primarily in consumer rights groups, the Pirate Party UK (PPUK) and The Open Rights Group, all of whom are pretty much foaming at the mouth right now (in politics that’s good). For the PPUK this has been a double edged sword as although foaming is occurring, they’re also picking up more members as angry citizens are given a reason to join (in the interest of disclosure: myself included).

Hopefully if there’s opposition the implementation will be delayed, if it’s delayed it’ll probably be stuck on the backburner till the next General Election and then all opinion polls suggest these guys will be out. Problem is Mandelson knows this is the case and the media industry do as well, that’s why the original Digital Britain report wasn’t fast enough for them and they’ve sent Mandy back with a new brief, ‘do it fast’.

ADDITIONAL

Torrent Freak have – as always – a thorough piece on this story… and they mention me!

Meanwhile, as one commenter indicates in a comment on the Digital Britain site, more people will be joining the UK Pirate Party,

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Thank the Media for Information Freedom

Perhaps one of the most prominent patterns I’ve seen in my research is increasing decentralisation in information transfer primarily driven by media. Services such as MP3.com and Napster who wanted to work alongside the music industry were incredibly centralised. MP3.com worked off the classic server/client system of information distribution, whilst Napster was centralised by its index servers that co-ordinated the finding and transfer of information. These made the services vulnerable to take-downs, but they never built those systems with the aim of defending themselves, they wanted to work with the industry.

When the industry reacted as they did (read as ‘rather badly’) it spurred on certain software developers to work towards making their networks as decentralised as they could and the politics changed. Justin Frankel, founder of Nullsoft the company responsible for Winamp and the original Gnutella protocol wasn’t the corporate type and his system was designed not to work with the industry. Despite the sale of Nullsoft to AOL his perception of the buyout quickly changed when he realised how much his personal perspectives jarred with those of AOL. When Frankel saw what Napster was doing his first thoughts were how it could be done without being sued. His fairly autonomous Nullsoft staff worked away at Gnutella and released it for free on the net. Gnutella worked as a completely decentralised network, no matter how many computers were taken offline, the network persisted. It was no longer a case of ‘can we work with the industry’ but ‘can we get past the industry’. Proof of success lies in the fact that the Gnutella protocol still persists, its most popular client software being Limewire.

Other systems such as Kazaa, Grokster and WinMX all worked on similar variations of the Gnutella system. The next shift in data transfer came with BitTorrent. Strangely BitTorrent was never designed with piracy in mind, Bram Cohen (the original protocol coder) once said

“Distributing stuff that is clearly illegal with BitTorrent is a really dumb idea. BitTorrent doesn’t have any anonymity features. There are things about it that make it very incompatible with anonymity”

BitTorrent was designed for fast reliable media distribution, but on a legal footing. That’s why if you go to BitTorrent.com you’ll see endorsements from Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount Studios. BitTorrent became the piracy powerhouse it is today because it was released open source and the privacy aspects were built in later, including the ability to decentralise. Usually BitTorrent requires a tracker to co-ordinate the sharing of information, a big ol’ centralised server just screaming for a takedown notice. This wasn’t a problem to Cohen but the community worked their way around this by introducing DHT and peer exchange which make BitTorrent function more like Gnutella than Napster by making every client a tracker (quite how they do this technically is still beyond me).

This is the level of decentralisation we’re at now. However what we’ve also seen with The Pirate Bay lawsuits and raids is that BitTorrent is vulnerable, because of the technical centralisation, but also interestingly the social centralisation. The suit against the pirate bay was possible because there was a degree of centralisation in the apparent responsibility for it, that being the four plucky chaps that ran it. Similar cases have arisen for other trackers where the administrators have been targeted. The servers frequently get shifted around or backups are hidden in various countries ready to kick in if one set go down but the people are a different matter.

This is one of the reasons I believe the pirate bay admin have decided to sell it off. I don’t think they truly believe anyone will turn it into a pay service and I don’t think they care either. The pirate bay became too centralised as an icon. The hope is that the next stage of P2P will be decentralised to the point where no index site is needed to find content, no tracker to co-ordinate the transfers and no administrators to run anything. Simply client software all running as index, tracker and admin all at once. We can already see this in certain clients such as Vuze who are attempting a similar shift in being both content platform and torrent client. Torrent files, the small files that direct a software client to connect to a certain tracker and look for certain content will be considered less as a requirement for content sharing, and more as a browser based shareable link to a network that is always on.

What is interesting about this drive towards decentralisation is the necessary role that the media industries have played in it. Both as the reason to create the systems themselves by providing the profit motive (Napster and BitTorrent) and as the impetus to make them faster, stronger and more open by consistently attempting to shut them down. Perhaps one day we will salute the media industry as the greatest driver for information freedom.

How to DRM the News?

It’s generally possible to lock down a media such as music or video because it requires equipment to actually play it. This is how many DRM systems work, by having security measures in both the media and the media player (Cory Doctorow gives a great run-down of how this system will always make DRM crackable).

What about news though? Twitter is becoming somewhat a secondary newswire these days, with media outlets cobbling together stories from information picked up off of Twitter, ‘breaking’ the story hours after the Twitterverse has moved on. This can also work in the other direction:  Twitter can spread one factoid to thousands within minutes and could be the BitTorrent of news in a world where news is a paid for commodity.

If I paid to access the information behind the WSJ pay-wall, does that make that information private? If I reveal some of that information to others on the web is that theft of content, or copyright infringement? Granted if I lifted the thing verbatim and reposted it onto my cleverly named http://www.freewsj.com then fair enough, but what if I just found something interesting and quoted it, or discussed some figures that I saw. At what point am I giving too much of the subscriber content away to be fair use?

From the publisher’s perspective, do you control this? If so then how? Do you try to enforce some sort of screening algorithms to pick up on anyone writing something too close to your protected content? Or do you allow it in the hope that it will drive more traffic and more customers to the originating article? If you see it as viral marketing then how much should you allow out, and is there an issue if so much talk is generated that the whole article is essentially available in pieces anyway? How do you lock down something that is communicable across so many different platforms (and if we really have to, then without a technical platform at all)? The whole endeavour seems impossible. I hope it is.

Reference

European publishers want a law to control online news access – Ars Technica

News Won’t Learn from Music’s Mistakes

The news industry has been kicking up a bit of a stink that is reminiscent of the music industry in its digital infancy. They’re noticing a decline in advertising revenues and are pointing the finger at the internet for stealing away their advertising contracts. Similarly those news outlets that have an online presence are pointing the finger at Google and similar news aggregator services for making their content available outside of their originating sites meaning advertising never gets seen. On the other side of the argument the aggregators and index services argue that a large proportion of the news site traffic is because of their aggregators and indexing. It all sounds very similar to the music industry rallying against P2P for stealing their profits and streaming services for profiting off their content. The consumption patterns have changed, companies outside the circle that traditionally dealt with a media start filling the gaps, and then the old companies call for courts to protect them for being too slow.
Interestingly what is also comparable is the statistical debate; with music it was always the stats war between ‘P2P causes drops in profits’ and ‘P2P has no impact/improves profits’. With news, as the major companies claim that the internet has stolen all their revenue, stats start cropping up that in fact it may be many factors. You could argue that music sales declined due to multiple factors such as reduction in releases and the move from sales as albums to sales as tracks. With advertising revenue Robert Picard argues that it is not necessarily the internet, but the rise in other forms of physical advertising.
Over the last few weeks there have been calls from the news industries to implement essentially a DRM program across the net (ACAP) to control aggregators. News Corp have also implied that paywalls will soon be going up around their major properties. With the music industry’s recent admittance that their reaction to Napster could have been better it seems that just as one industry starts to come around, the other begins the whole process over again.

The news industry has been kicking up a bit of a stink that is reminiscent of the music industry in its digital infancy. They’re noticing a decline in advertising revenues and are pointing the finger at the internet for stealing away their advertising contracts. Similarly those news outlets that have an online presence are pointing the finger at Google and similar news aggregator services for making their content available outside of their originating sites meaning advertising never gets seen. On the other side of the argument the aggregators and index services argue that a large proportion of the news site traffic is because of their aggregators and indexing. It all sounds very similar to the music industry rallying against P2P for stealing their profits and streaming services for profiting off their content. The consumption patterns have changed, companies outside the circle that traditionally dealt with a media start filling the gaps, and then the old companies call for courts to protect them for being too slow.

Interestingly what is also comparable is the statistical debate; with music it was always the stats war between ‘P2P causes drops in profits’ and ‘P2P has no impact/improves profits’. With news, whilst the major companies claim that the internet has stolen all their revenue, stats start cropping up that in fact it may be many factors. With music you could argue that sales declined due to multiple factors such as reduction in releases and the move from sales as albums to sales as tracks. With advertising revenue Robert Picard argues that it is not necessarily the internet, but the rise in other forms of physical advertising.

Over the last few weeks there have been calls from the news industries to implement essentially a DRM program across the net (ACAP) to control aggregators. News Corp have also implied that paywalls will soon be going up around their major properties. With the music industry’s recent admittance that their reaction to Napster could have been better it seems that just as one industry starts to come around, the other begins the whole process over again.

Reference

AP to Aggregators: We Will Sue You | Wired

European publishers want a law to control online news access – Ars Technica

News Corp will charge for newspaper websites, says Rupert Murdoch | Media | guardian.co.uk

British music boss: we should have embraced Napster – Ars Technica

The Media Business: THE POOR CONNECTION BETWEEN INTERNET ADVERTISING AND NEWSPAPER WOES