Thursday, May 24, 2012


Ireland are playing their Euro 2012 group matches on Poland, thus this.

As an aside, the most compelling political argument I've found recently has been the one that the Tories are making vindictive cuts, not because they need to, but because they want to.

The need for a restructuring of the economy (and it is needed) is being used to justify score-settling by nasty Thatcherite fantatics.

That this is an opportunistic political attack dressed up as economic prudence. That it's not the cuts we object to, but their choice of cuts.

When they identify the barriers to growth, they don't see banks that won't lend, or these mythical startups that fail to materialise, or a private sector that hasn't got the entreprenneurial nuts to jump into the space vacated by the public sector.

They don't see consumers and businesses who are keeping their cash in their pockets because they don't know if tomorrow is going to be more rainy. They don't see the unmet need for housing or the uncertain caution of people in precarious employment.

No. They see trades unions who are too strong. Workers who enjoy anti-social employment rights. Bosses who can't fire anyone they please.

Unions have the potential to be the rallying point here. I'm not sure it's an opportunity that they always take, but if ever there was a time for a 'free trade union' campaign in the UK, now is it.

It's a slightly anti-political argument - it plays on a general suspicion about the motives of the political caste. But this isn't something to be afraid of. If it helps to nudge Labour out of it's own bunker-mentality, so much the better.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A few things a few people should know about copyright Pt1.

I like 38Degrees most of the time. They campaign on issues that I agree on. I know one of the people there slightly, and I know that they take on some of the criticisms I've made about the democratic problems around petitions and write-in campaigns. I also think that there are some issues where the Westminster Village needs to be jogged out if it's own obsessions - especially on important issues that slip below the radar at election time.

I also like the way they're diversifying into other constructive forms of crowd-sourcing.

But where I worry most is the way that campaigns can be built up because they have a superficial appeal to a particular activist demographic. On complex questions this can be the case. 38 Degrees and AVAZZ have both made their presence felt on issues around copyright. There is a general, slightly muddy contention that the open internet is always a good thing and that the benefits of letting it rip in all ways outweigh any benefits related to curbing the way it's used. So, no porn-blocking, no piracy-enforcement, and so on.

It's not an argument I've ever seen made much beyond being an idealised contention, though for the most part, I'm in complete agreement with this view (except where it comes to the 'piracy enforcement' which I'll come to in a sec). It's a fashionable view. And, if you hold it, I suspect you may be receptive to claims that support it.

Here's 38 Degrees from a couple of years ago:
The Digital Economy Bill .... gives the government the ability to disconnect millions. Schools, libraries and businesses could see their connection cut if their pupils, readers of customers infringe any copyright. But one group likes it, the music industry. 

This resulted in a significant write-in campaign. There are a number of things wrong with their position (do read the whole thing):

a) Millions? Schools, libraries and businesses?
Er.... only after a range of warning letters. In France, the Hadopi Bill (generally seen as being a good deal more draconian) has reduced piracy significantly without resulting in any civil liberties fiascos it's opponents suggested would happen. The amount of disconnections are expected to be negligible.

This is a massive over-egging of the civil liberties argument to the degree to which the only rational conclusion about the people who make these claims must be this: That no measures that curb illegal copying of copyrighted material are acceptable.

b) "But one group likes it, the music industry."
We'll, yes, they do. I suppose they could have added Disney/Time Warner/Universal from the film industry as well. But this isn't just the big music industry. It's also smaller labels. And its not just the industry. Actually, the most active part of the 'industry' that is supportive of steps to curb illegal copying is the Musicians Union. And then there are independent TV production companies. They hate it as well - and they see their ability to fundraise for new productions being seriously hit by falling DVD sales.

Then there's Equity, the actors union and BECTU (who - declaring an interest, I work for part-time - I blog here on my own time though). And PACT, the independent producer trade body. Not just Hollywood.

Because only one part of the opposition to legislation like this has the lobbying muscle to make itself heard doesn't make it the only part of the opposition, yet these voices get no name-checks.

And here's AVAAZ:
"The oppressively strict regulations could mean people everywhere are punished for simple acts such as sharing a newspaper article or uploading a video of a party where copyrighted music is played. Sold as a trade agreement to protect copyrights."

There is other stuff in there about pharma and patents, areas on which I have little knowledge, but seeing as it sits below such an outrageously over-stated and simplistic case as the one about copying, if it is a good case, it's tainted by association with a bad one.

The claims about censorship (as I've argued at perhaps too much length in the comments here) are nonsense. My real problem with this is that, undisclosed in these circles, is the huge global battle upon which so much hangs. And - more to the point - politicians are now openly speaking about how these campaigns shift them away from decisions they would have otherwise made.

Google stands to benefit hugely - and we're talking about eye-watering numbers here - from the weakness of artists in enforcing their rights.

They have a huge interest in not dealing with piracy. By 'dealing with' I don't just mean 'stopping' but also 'not facilitating an alternative'. The continuing presence of rogue sites that they could easily block damages the capacity others have to create a legitimate market. Delay in enforcing the Digital Economy Act, for example, is the perfect outcome for them.

Google are a monopoly here. As we've seen, they're as close to governments now as Murdoch ever was. When you have a monopoly position, your responsibilities go way beyond some dumb compliance with regulations. (I'm awake to the irony of me posting this on a Google-owned bit of software, btw).

Google are looking down the barrel of a fantastic opportunity here: They could end up as the world's default collecting society - collecting a fraction of the amount that national or regional players would (from Google!) for monetising unlicenced content. Creators will only have a monopoly to turn to.

When you oppose copyright enforcement without coming up with an alternative, then you essentially favour the alternative that inertia promotes. When Johnny Rotten said 'Never Trust a Hippy' he was talking about Richard Branson's Virgin Records after they'd just made the leap from EMI and A&M.

Say what you like about those businesses, they paid something from the profits they made out of musicians' rights. More than Google ever will, I suspect.

I hope no-one gets involved in the next write-in campaign without addressing these questions first.

I've got a few more of these to come as well - stay posted. In particular, it's worth focussing on the degree to which the industry that carries and 'adds value' to content has mushroomed without much benefit to the people who actually make the content.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Esoterica - elsewhere

I'm not religious. Really, I'm not. But I've mentioned here (and here) before that I think sacred music is fascinating. And the biggest, fleeting doubt I've had about my choice of agnosticism has been in learning about the direct relationship between proportion and beauty - the Fibonacci Sequence in structure and design or the mathematical basis of musical harmony, as examples.

I think most agnostics with a limited grasp of natural sciences prefer 'cosmic accident' as an explanation for most natural phenomena, don't we?

I'm not alone in seeing some profundity in these things. All sorts of esoteric cults have grown up around this evidence. Picking at these subjects, I keep stumbling over various artefacts and concepts - the Harmonograph, the 'music of the spheres' or many and varied artworks that I think are worth thinking about.

I suspect my interest will be more similar to curious fascination that drives most readers of The Fortean Times than it will be to the kind of interst expressed by any 18th Century sub-Freemasonary sect.

Rather than boring you about them all here, I've just started using Tumblr to keep track of them here if you're interested.  I've not really got my head around how Tumblr works, but I think you can post things on to it yourself if you feel like it.