Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Too much applause...

From the Times today, via way of Liberal Conspiracy:

The Conservatives complained to the programme makers three times during Monday night’s television debate between the candidates for Chancellor, accusing them of skewing coverage in favour of Vince Cable.

At one point during the Channel 4 Ask the Chancellors programme senior Tories phoned the hotline to the production staff claiming that the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman was receiving too much applause.

Yesterday the Conservatives warned broadcasters not to give the Liberal Democrats an easy ride in the leaders’ TV debates.

Although many were happy with the performance of George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, senior Conservatives, including David Cameron, were irritated by the way Mr Cable was able to present himself as a referee between two opponents rather than facing pressure over his own policy positions.

This is pretty disingenuous. Most of the "serious pressure about policy positions" in that debate came from Osborne attacking Darling or vice-versa. The reason Cable didn't come under much pressure was because they were desperately trying to ignore him. This is perfectly in keeping with the Tory battle plan for dealing with the Lib Dems - pretend they don't exist and that the election comes down to a straight choice between Labour and Tory - which they were putting into full force on Monday night. Cable was clearly gunning for a show-down with Osborne, but George kept on batting the ball back to Darling. This was probably the sensible move (is there a political pundit in the country who thinks that Osborne would have come out better from that one?) but you can't really blame Channel 4 for the Tory election strategy. Or for the fact that Cable knows his shit and Osborne doesn't.

"We know we have to use the state to re-make society."

David Cameron is now actually using this as a tag-line. What's the actual point of the Tories now. I mean, I'm pretty sure there was a time when social engineering was the sort of thing the Tories disapproved of. Now not so much.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bill

Could everyone please make their way on over to here and give them some money? Quickly. Thanks terribly.

Now why was that necessary? Glad you asked. You, my friend, have just contributed to the 38 Degrees campaign to stop the Digital Economy Bill being shuffled through parliament before the election. They're planning to buy any number of adverts in the paper to try and let MPs know that ramming through this sort of legislation without proper scrutiny is the sort of thing people end up losing seats over.

And why should MPs lose seats over this? Once again, a very good question. Well the Bill's pretty broad ranging, but mostly people are worked up about copyright protection. In particular, people are upset by plans to disconnect users who are accused of online copyright infringement, and to try blocking foreign sites that allow it.

While this might sound like a good thing (copyright infringement being bad), it's a little more complicated than this. There are lots of good places to read about this, but for those of you who can't be bothered, the key thing to remember is that there's a lot of information on the internet, and only a very small part of it is infringing material. There are also a lot of people on the internet, and only a pretty small number of them are engaged in large scale copyright infringment. Processes designed to work out what material is infringing, and stop the people doing it, necessarily effect more than just that material and those people. If you fast-track the process for dealing with infringers, but you'll also get more people who just use the internet to pay their bills and read the news. Want to cut off Youtube-like services that people are using to share copyrighted material? Good for you, but you're also cutting them off for a whole load of people who wanted to use them for legitimate purposes.

This isn't to say that there should be no new measures for stopping copyright infringement. It's just that someone's ox is always going to get gored when you introduce new laws. As backers of the bill have pointed out, there are ways round that. Paul Carr had posted on Tech Crunch the other day that the bill wasn't as fundamentally flawed as everyone seemed to think, and that with a bit of proper democratic scrutiny it could provide good protection for copyright holders without too much collateral damage.

That's a point of view, but the key point here is could. At the moment, the bill is a pretty much a wish-list for big copyright holders. If it's going to make it into law, it needs to be a compromise between them and all the other affected parties (users, ISPs, new technology companies, free and open source software developers, civil liberties groups). Which can only happen if there's an actual debate about it. So go on.

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