There’s been a lot of buzz about a story The London Times ran this morning under the headline “Internet users could be banned over illegal downloads,” which also appeared on the BBC website under the even more alarming headline “Illegal downloaders ‘face UK ban.” Time to get a couple of things straight.
The Times says “people who illegally download films and music will be cut off from the internet under new legislative proposals to be unveiled next week.” Actually, this story is complete balderdash. But the fact that this nutty proposal is getting anywhere at all illustrates how ignorant the powers that be are about downloading.
Let’s get a couple of things straight ,
1. This proposal was a draft consultation green paper, defined as “a proposal without any commitment to action.” The government receives many of these on a daily basis. They are like junk mail at Number 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister’s toilet paper is more important than most green papers, and both are usually filed in the same place.
2. This proposal is totally and completely unworkable in the real world. ISPs will not accept liability for the contents of packets (nor should they), and it would be impossible for them to open and check if every single download and upload was legal or not without the entire Internet grinding to halt. This isn’t in the best interests of the government, the ISPs or the voters. Banning customers and exposing yourself to billions in liability isn’t a good business strategy. Criminalizing six million citizens and inconveniencing the rest is not a vote winner.
3. It would be impossible to tell the difference between illegal downloading and legal activities such as downloading software patches, using torrents to share stuff legally, playing online video games, using VoIP, photo sharing, telecommuting, and many others. The resistance from the private sector would be as strong as it would from the general public.
4. The very idea of this goes against the ruling of the European Court, which says EU member states are not obligated to disclose personal information about suspected file sharers. It would also fly in the face of Article 10 of the European freedom of expression laws, which gives every European the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
5. WiFi piggybacking and encrypted packets make it impossible to tell who is downloading what in the first place. These techniques are only getting more sophisticated, while for the most part, the content industries collectively remain as dumb as a box of hair.
So in summary:
Insert Toilet Flushing Sound FX Here
This idea makes as much sense as trying to ban people from singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to each other over the telephone network, or burning down libraries to protect the publishing industry. But what’s frightening about such ideas is that they are still taken seriously all over the world by powerful decision makers in government and industry who have absolutely no clue about how the Internet actually works, or the damage such laws could do to democracy.
Before there is any more discussion about this, the music and film companies need to definitively prove illegal downloads cost them millions of dollars in lost revenues. CD sales are falling because nobody uses them anymore, and Hollywood is in rude health despite the pirates. There should be no more talk about changing laws and spending tax payer’s money on this ‘problem’ until someone proves there really is one.
Furthermore, if there is a problem, tax payers shouldn’t have to pony up in the first place. The content industries need to stop braying at governments to protect inefficient business models and look at the real solution that’s been staring them in the face for ten years.
For those who are interested, my book: “The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism” is out now through Free Press, , and probably soon on a BitTorrent tracker near you ;).