28th October 2009
Dear Peter Mandelson,
I am involved in both the sectors of which you are taking such a damaging interest in, and although I don’t have the money to lobby on the same level as the music industry, I speak to you now as an investor. As an investor in the online world.
The analogue world is fleshy, simultaneously both tactile and ineffable. This is why we can invent concepts like money – you can hold on to it, and it can also be represented on pieces of paper, can change in value without changing in essence. The online world, on the other hand, is built on definite points, and logic. Oh it can contain the ineffable, just as infinity can be expressed as a value, but it’s built on single points, on values. If there is an online economy, its currency is information. And if we participate in online worlds, we are investing our information, our content in that world.
So I speak to you now, as an investor. I am a member of both the arts industry, and the online world. I work with arts companies on their online involvement, I blog opinion pieces and engage with politics and ethics, I write plays, and I am also researching art and digital technology. I may not be a big player, but I have a vested interest in online spaces that I participate in. I have a right to talk about how my share in these worlds is treated.
Despite the fact that your very own in depth Digital Britain report released in June 09 ruled out cutting off P2P sharers (“The most draconian penalty considered at the time was to slow down a persistent filesharer’s broadband connection”. Source) You continue to attempt to enforce a strategy that is at best foolish, and at worst illegal.
If, as you maintain, there are 7 million illegal files sharers in the UK, you must consider that you cannot cut off 7 million people’s internet connections without due process of law. It’s perfectly easy to piggy back on unsecured wireless connections, just as it is possible that a connection is shared by a building, a family, a business. Furthermore, are you proposing to process each illegal filesharer through the justice system? (And at the cost of the taxpayer – “Her Majesty’s Court System currently holds 200,000 criminal cases per year” source – how is it going to deal with millions)? Or are advocating a form of marshal law, where ISPs are sheriffs, and users are guilty until proven innocent?
Disconnecting people from the internet does not fully comply with EU legislation. In fact it directly contravenes EU legislation. I am referring to amendment 138/46 which […] declared that access to the internet was a fundamental human right. source
You seem to be so eager for the Royal Mail to modernise, I wonder why you don’t see it equally as important for the music industry to do so?
I’d like to believe that the U-turn after the digital Britain report had nothing to do with your meeting meeting with one of the most powerful figures in the British music business, Lucian Grainge, the chairman of Universal Music – Source, soon after which you announced your resurrection of the draconian #3strikes, but it’s hard to understand why else you have decided to make this fallacious decision. And fallacious it is, the figures bandied about are bolstered by false accounting for losses to the creative industries, and even aside from the exaggerated and erroneous figures involved in the headlines (see Ben Goldacre’s excellent blog post for more) their maths is flawed at the point they assume every download is a lost sale.
Copyright was originally brought about in 1709 to “encourage the creation of artistic works by granting a right to copy for 14 years.” It now stands between 50 and 95 years Source. Its aim was to encourage a profession. I am not arguing for an artistic community that consists solely of amateurs, I understand, boy do I understand that artists need to be paid. But being paid is not the ends for which art is made, it is the encouragement. The leveller. Not the stick with which to beat the consumer.
I, and many of my peers are not calling for an end to the creative industries, we’re calling for changes to a very specific aspect of them – distribution. I’m not talking about some ‘choatic utopia’ (Source), what I am saying is the way that we consume is changing. Myspace, and Spotify have already changed the way that that we access music, and that artist distribute their wares. Youtube allows anyone with a camera and a computer to have their say. The Age of Stupid crowd-sourced the complete £450K production budget and are pioneering a system that allows anyone to buy a licence to screen it whenever and wherever they like – keeping the profits for themselves or their climate campaign.
Here’s a real industry perspective:
“The majority of my audiences watch my films over the BitTorrent system, a system so revolutionarily brilliant that it means I, an independent film-maker, can distribute a film in full High Definition to hundreds of millions of viewers with absolutely no cost incurred to me” – Monaghan Media source
And that of a consumer:
“Now, I muster all the spare cash I have to pay for an internet connection, and go to gigs as often as possible. I tell my mates (and a bunch of strangers on the interweb) about all the new bands I’ve heard of, and encourage them to see them live. So, I’m paying for the music I like, I’m paying the costs of distributing it, and I’m promoting it” source
P2P filesharing is revolutionary, it’s zero cost, close to zero in carbon emissions (servers), it runs on recommendations. It is another shift to the ‘pull’ ethic of the digital world. In a hyper-connected, information heavy existence, you cannot deliver neatly packaged tales of what we should buy and how we should be, because there are a million other voices that will simultaneously disagree. People taped music from CDs and radio before now, that’s been going on for years, what I believe really scares industry is the peer – peer review, peer sharing. Theirs is no longer dominant voice, we’re building our own worlds. Yes we need to deal with people who make a profit out of illegal filesharing, but criminalising a large proportion of your electorate is not the way to go about this.
A Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, what you should be doing is using the Digital Britain report to offer big business a manual to the digital world. If they want to survive, they have to evolve, you are doing this country a disservice when you pander to their childish cries to stem the tide of change.
However, I have to say that so far these simple facts seem to have evaded you, you seem determined to press on. So let me tell you now that #3strikes will not work. Because we will not allow it to. No one will.
Aside from the impossibility of monitoring and prosecuting all (let’s call non-profiteering sharers ‘domestic’) p2p filesharers, we will stop you from penalising any of them. If you begin to cut off people’s internet access, then everyone who can afford to do so will set up alternative unsecured wireless networks across the country. If you aim to track torrent usage, we will proliferate details on how to obscure or re-route your IP address. If you shut down those sites, we will use private chat to discuss what we want, and private cloud storage systems, drop boxes, to share content. We will rename files, disguise track identites with a couple of bytes worth data, break meta-data, and come up with new ways of encrypting our actions. The industry will not only lose out on ‘sales’ but valuable usage figures too.
You are attempting to solve a digital problem using analogue solutions. We are open source, we are anonymous, and we are everywhere. Don’t fight us, don’t push, help dying industries reform, and remarket themselves in a sustainable way.
Here’s some further reading from prominent musicians/Bloggers:
Please don’t make this mistake. Because you will regret it.
If you wish to send this letter to Peter Mandelson, or send something of you own, you can contact him via Writetothem.com. Don’t forget to replace my name and details with your own.
Do also check out this entry just posted by Steve Lawson, a musician and thinker who is making a living out of digital distribution.
If you want to take further action, read more, or get actively involved in the fight for our digital rights, please do check out, and where possible, support the excellent work of the Open Rights Group and 38Degrees.