It’s Not Working

Open Rights GroupImage shared via a creative commons license by adewale_oshineye on Flickr

Today I am leafing through the barely penetrable Digital Economy Bill, and I am thinking. I am thinking that we are not being heard. For all of the petitions that we sign, the words we pour into blogs and articles, the posturing we do on twitter and facebook, how much are we – the online tech-literate – how much are we simply talking to ourselves?

It’s been almost a month since I sent my Open Letter to Peter Mandelson. I have had no reply. No acknowledgement. No engagement.

The Digital Economy Bill is not about a digital economy, it is about how an analogue one can cling to profit within it.

This is the creative industry versus the distribution industries. The online world is a hive of creativity, of emerging technology, of passion and code, of distribution of information and means, it is a place to be valued beyond money. It is also a dangerous place to operate if it is control that you want, that you need. This is an amazing and incomprehensible thing for government.

The 20th century creative economic model has operated on a basis of scarcity – of distribution, of controlling numbers and controlling access, and this was all orchestrated via the grand narrative of fame. As web 2.0 musician Steve Lawson puts it:

I no longer need to pretend to be a rock-star. The mythology of rock ‘n’ roll is nowhere near as interesting as the reality of creativity. Whereas the reality of high-dollar touring, promotional duties, photoshoots etc. is phenomenally dull. That’s why the rock ‘n’ roll myths were created – to cover the tedium that is the day to day reality of most touring musicians. The number that ever made millions from it is so small as to not really be statistically relevant when discussing what’s best for ‘music’ – they just had an enormous media footprint. Source

We are, for the most part, not calling for some creative chaotic utopia where the creative industries are either funded, or amateur, and we should not be losing artists because they are not ‘jack of all trades’ people – because they can’t design, market, distribute, and create. But we should be encouraging open and collaborative processes. It is in those spaces that you learn, and that you can plug your skills gaps with the expertise of others. It is in online spaces that you have direct access to your fans, your audience, your participants. That you can remove the necessity to market, or reform what marketing is.

You cannot legislate material that can be translated into information. You can, however, market experience, physical possessions, skill in a studio, the binding of a book. People like to touch. They like to breathe the heat of lights and smoke at gigs, they like the run their fingers over the cover of a book. I do not believe that the online world opposes that.

It also is worth mentioning that for those with money – those who lobby, and those, for the most part, who are in government, have never or can no longer recall what it feels like for finance to be finite in real terms – it is very hard for them to understand the motivations behind downloading something that costs less that £10. They see it as flippant, lazy and dishonest. They don’t understand that for many (and including myself) £10 is the weekly food budget. They don’t see that these things are done out of love, and that every spare piece of cash longs to be spent on seeing a band live, garnering what is worth more to us than money – physical experience.

So how about we bring this love to the physical world? Open Festivals – free to attend, sponsored, artists and musicians performing across the country– raising money for the Open Rights Group. We celebrate creativity, and we raise awareness and money.

This kind of action, as well as garnering money to support important and organised IRL action and lobbying (a power direly in need, not least to rival the weight of money behind the distribution industries), will also raise the profile of this issue to the ‘real’ sphere. Plenty of people who this bill will affect have no idea about how it will do so, or why they should care. We need to take this information to the streets. This will also speak in a language government understands. Clicking a petition is an important thing to do, but physical bodies in psychical spaces (and in British weather), that is action the establishment understands.

Also, how much should we condone civil disobedience? Proactive protest that does not harm people, or property, but that disrupts media events? Or DDOS attacks? Benign hacks which disseminate the message “it’s this easy to infiltrate a system, consider that when you vote on the Digital Economy Bill”. Raising the profile of the message in a way that demonstrates how much they don’t know about our world? Civil disobedience is a difficult point to consider, but I don’t doubt that some people will do so without consideration, should we gather ideas on how to do so without denigrating our intentions?

We also need to offer solutions. How to find and prosecute those who share copyrighted material for profit. Those who crack, propagate malicious code, set up bot nets and phish. Draw up new models for the music and film industries, fund studies into the gain vs. loss of people who love culture enough to ‘illegally’ download it. We need to do the work which the digital economy bill doesn’t, and set up a wiki to assess how the creative industries can and should operate in the online world. We can offer a publicly submitted memoranda to the bill, a 3,000 word document (about 6 sides of A4) offering our personal and industry expertise on a bill being proposed to parliament.

We need to speak up, because the most important things are only conspicuous by their absence. While the Digital Economy Bill includes measures that allow complete disconnection and up to

£50,000 fines if someone in your house is accused of filesharing. A duty on ISPs to spy on all their customers in case they find something that would help the record or film industry sue them (ISPs who refuse to cooperate can be fined £250,000) source

And also allowing the Secretary of State

the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright. source

Including imposing jail sentences. There is an awful lot that is missing:

[there is] nothing about ensuring that broadband is cheap, fast and neutral. Nothing about getting Britain’s poorest connected to the net. Nothing about ensuring that copyright rules get out of the way of entrepreneurship and the freedom to create new things. Nothing to ensure that schoolkids get the best tools in the world to create with, and can freely use the publicly funded media — BBC, Channel 4, BFI, Arts Council grantees — to make new media and so grow up to turn Britain into a powerhouse of tech-savvy creators. source

We need to make ourselves seen and heard. Why? Because we are this world; in varying but no more or less important ways we are stakeholders in the digital economy. The Digital Economy bill speaks entirely of the ignorance of our policy makers – but we can’t forget that it is our responsibility to speak to them about these failings, and in a language they understand. I am of the creative industry, some of you are too, but we are all the digital economy, because it trades in information, not money. We need to take this IRL, we need to take this analogue, we speak in their world, they need to learn about ours. Let’s act.

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4 Responses to “It’s Not Working”

  1. Terence Eden November 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    Thousands of us turned up to protest student tuition fees, tens of thousands against banning fox-hunting, hundred of thousands against the war in Iraq, and what happened? Nothing. Protests are either hijacked or ignored.

    I think there are only three things to be done.

    1) Physically turn up at your MP’s surgery and tell her that she must not vote for this bill. Don’t write a letter. Don’t sign a petition. Go and see them. Explain to them. Take some friends to see them. Let them know that your vote goes elsewhere if they don’t stop this bill.

    2) When the bill passes (and it will) that’s when civil disobedience begins. Find the IP address of an MP, HoC staffer, local council, local school, etc which could conceivably be file sharing. Get them kicked off the Internet. Do it again and again until they see what an unworkable piece of legislation this is.

    3) Joining ORG is all well and good (I’m member 615) but also consider joining a political party. I’m not fussed which one – but join and make sure their digital policies are sane.

    I like the idea of concerts and protests – and I’m up for joining them – but I don’t think they can make a difference in this case.


  2. Hannah Nicklin November 24, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    Thanks for your comment Terence, I think it’s important to try legal, positive, and recognised routes before the alternatives, point 1 and 3 of yours completely fit in with this. I’d like civil disobedience (the IP action) to be a last resort. But fear we’re nearly at that point. I do think offering an addendum as a recognised way for people with expertise to correct fallacies in proposed legislation should be done though, and as far as I know has not been done yet. Basically, yes, these are also things we need to be doing.

  3. Terence Eden November 24, 2009 at 7:09 pm #

    Just to make it clear, I don’t propose falsely accusing anyone. But, chances are, someone in every large office is on a P2P site.


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