Donald MacLean's Blog 16
We spent a week (Easter) at the South coast.
A couple of pix from my mobile phone:-
Beckie, windswept, on the beach
across the road from our one-time second home
(On the right - 2nd floor)
many happy weekends there - especially in windswept winters. Nostalgia.
back is usually what my blogs are about. In my mid-eighties I suppose it's what
many of my thoughts are about.
though, I ask you to share with me events that are unfolding here and now. Day
by day. Events that will almost certainly impact your life - in whatever part of the world
The latest figures show that 95% of
music being enjoyed by us ordinary citizens has been downloaded from a
Is this another valuable freedom brought to us by the internet and broadband?
In blog #8, I offered you my opinion that it is not ... and that it matters
... because you and I are not prepared for the inevitable consequence - a
world in which the only Intellectual Property (music, movies, books etc) will
be created by unpaid amateurs.
Technology has replaced the 'gramophone record' with CDs (which still come to us,
typically, via warehouses and shops). And technology is now replacing CDs with downloaded
MP3's. So we save the cost of distribution. Tough if you work in a
record shop, but a boon for us consumers. That is progress - change
benefiting the majority.
The problem is that file-sharing eliminates also the creator of the product
itself! It breaks the 'Copyright Cycle' which feeds back to a successful
creator the means to create another successful product. (It returns less -
sometimes nothing - to the less successful creator ... it's an efficient system.)
Technology - continually developing - now enables us to download moving
pictures as well as sound. Video & TV &
Movies are now being 'file-shared'. If this broken Copyright Cycle isn't repaired then
the scale on which this is happening will increase (as broadband develops) -
eliminating audio-visual creators just as it is already eliminating 'audio'
Maybe that will finally introduce
the cold air of reality into the situation. Some good music can be created by
amateurs in their bedrooms ... but good movies cannot.
Why does the civilised world find itself in this blind-alley?
The worldwide music industry must accept much of the blame.
I cannot have been the only voice warning, 35 years ago,
that technology would short-circuit the traditional supply-chains -
first with music then, inevitably, with audio-visual products.
That's history. How might we now
back out of this cul-de-sac?
It won't be easy ... when reversing one's vision is less clear.
The UK government produced its
solution last June and now,
as I write, it is being rushed through Parliament
before the election.
Scene 1 on
TV. The parents of a teenage boy and girl are
Interviewer: "When you were at the supermarket your daughter was found to have slipped a CD into her pocket and your
son the DVD of a movie - what do you have to say?"
Parents: "We're very embarrassed ...
they're good kids - we've brought them up to understand right and wrong - but
of course we can't supervise them all the time while we're shopping. Yes, of
course we paid
the supermarket immediately."
Scene 2 on
TV. The parents of a teenage boy and girl are
Interviewer: "Our computer expert has
examined the laptops in your childrens' bedrooms and found that they have been
downloading, from file-sharing websites, music and movies
worth many hundreds of pounds. What do you have to say?"
Parents: "Well, we wouldn't
know how to do that - but they're both computer-literate. They tell us
that all their friends do it ... and there's no way we can supervise what they
do in their own rooms every evening. It's outrageous that we're liable to
have our broadband service restricted ... even cut-off, if this continues. It's only music."
scene 1. It would rarely
happen - and if it did, the reaction of most parents would, I think, be much as I've described.
But I have
just watched Scene 2 on the BBC documentary series "Panorama" which was
reflecting public reaction to the UK Government's proposed new laws.
(This scene could be happening many times every day, everywhere.)
'"Publishing' will have to make some very
long-overdue adjustments are starting to happen - in many countries - in similar
ways because there's not much choice. Publishers (of books, music,
movies etc - any intellectual property) must find new business models
... including downloading as part of a Copyright Cycle ... generating funds that will support their role
as the catalysts of new books, music and movies etc. And Internet
Service Providers (ISPs) will inevitably have to take responsibility for the illegal use of their pipelines.
rather a lot in the UK because a high proportion of the country's wealth
is generated by creative industries - who depend,
like any other craftsmen, on getting some return for their efforts.
taking any responsibility, saying that they merely
supply the conduits and cannot be responsible for how they are used.
I recall the BBC resisting, for a while,
demands from the Musicians' Union for some payment to every musician each time
his/her recorded performance was broadcast. By the time I became a
producer of music programmes this had become standard practice - every performer, every
item, every transmission of it - were all coordinated in a document called a "PasB"
(programme as broadcast) - which put a small sum into the pocket of those who
had created the item. The BBC very properly accepted the
necessity, the justice, of this extra expense.
countries of the Western world have been working-out how to repair the
Copyright Cycle - how to update the laws
under which you and I receive our information and entertainment - adjusting to the
developments about which I've written in several of my blogs. (30 years
ago I would have been at the centre of these adjustments.)
government finally assigned this task to a Scot in his early forties, Stephen
(now Lord) Carter, a graduate of Aberdeen University and both London and Harvard
Business Schools. His proposals are called "Digital Britain". They
were published in June and have been working their way through lengthy
consultation processes. They have been translated into a "Digital
Economy Bill" - which is due to be debated by Parliament this week.
The first line of his report sets the scene:
"The communications sector underpins
everything we do
- as an economy - as a society".
It says that the UK Parliament should do five things:
1. Introduce protection against illegal
2. Enable the extension of digital Radio.
3. Enable the extension of high-speed
4. Enable the production of more
5. Extend age-classification to video
When the Bill was published there was an immediate revolt by
the ISPs - which evoked some
support from the Upper House.
As I said: 'Publishing' will have to make some very
Item 5 is not difficult. It wasn't easy when I led the
team which replaced censorship with age-classification for movies and videos,
but that is now accepted as normal.
Item 4 has boiled down to a decision (in these
financially-difficult times) about whether or not to 'top-slice' the BBC's
income - the annual "TV Licence" which most UK households have to pay to fund
the BBC. A decision for the next government. (The 'Beeb' will, of
course resist, but I suspect that the average household will not care much
Item 3 (improving broadband connections): Lord Carter
suggested that every household with a phone-line should have a small sum added
to its monthly charge to enable British Telecom to extend its wired broadband network to rural (uneconomic) areas. A
sensible idea ... but the popular press will make a meal of it and I bet
the politicians will take their cue from that.
Item 2 (digital radio) looks dicey to me. Ann has (and
uses daily) a DAB radio in the kitchen - it seems to me no better than the
hi-fi in our lounge (VHF and Internet Radio) or the tiny VHF receiver which feeds my
ear-buds (during sleepless nights) with the excellent BBC World Service.
I doubt the members of Parliament will understand (or care much about) this
So, as I anticipated,
attention is entirely focused on item 1. So much so that the whole thing is now
universally called "The Internet Piracy Bill".
27th March 2010. The Digital Economy Bill is being
in Parliament today. As midnight approaches I'm watching the debate on
BBC TV's "Parliament" channel. Our MPs are well-informed - the
lobbyists (on both sides of the argument) have been doing their thing!
judge that the ISP's case ("it's no part of our business to control the use
of our conduits") is being put more forcefully than the case for their
having to apply legal judgments. Safeguards against the innocent
suffering are being strengthened (suspect households will receive two formal court warnings,
triggering a two-stage
reduction of broadband service).
'FILE SHARING IS BAD'
Britain is not alone in facing up to this problem. The increasing tide of disagreement is spreading -
you will have seen evidence of it in television and newspaper reports
'THIS REMEDY IS BAD'
Every MP is angry that this
contentious bill is being rushed through Parliament as it closes down for the
election. (They call this the "Wash-up" period.)
It's emerging that the Government has watered-down several of
the proposals in order to get enough votes for the Bill to pass today.
Only one of Lord Carter's proposals looks certain to survive
intact: Nr 5 - the extension to video-games of the age-classification
Item 3, as I suspected, is a casualty. Lord C's small
monthly tax on our phone bill (to enable
broadband to be extended to rural areas) is scrapped. All parties are committed to achieve that
social benefit so perhaps they'll divert a piece of the BBC's income to do this
(instead of increasing public-service TV).
("Parliament" is the collective name for a
group of .... owls.)
My newspaper is one of the few which also has an excellent online
version - and charges for both. One day this week its 'leader' column
tended to one side of the argument ... while an article in its enclosed magazine put
the opposite case.
And just as the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) looked like
succeeding in their revolt against the Government's proposal (that they cease
'aiding and abetting' file-sharing) the
influential Consumers Association (who publish "Which?") swung the argument back
again with an amendment (to the
Digital Economy Bill) which would prevent copyright holders from
approaching culprits directly ("Bully-Boy tactics") and depend solely on the ISPs policing their customers!
Advertisers are moving from Newspapers to Google ...
is connecting us with the newspapers' reports online ...
so the income of papers is doubly reduced.
Book publishers (structured to distribute their products
mainly ... yes ... via warehouses and shops)
find increasing numbers of us prefer to download a
digital version to our Kindles and iPads.
Are they learning from the misjudgement of the
Many movies and expensive TV productions are
now available free on the internet.
The 'copyright cycle' is an efficient system - and it's broken.
There's a growing assumption
that because the cost of distribution has been eliminated
by the internet, all intellectual property is - and
should be - free!
It's a myth.
Midnight: The "Digital Britain" Bill has been passed.
A copyright-owner will have to write to someone
who is distributing his product for free and warn them to desist. If
they fail to do so he must write to them again giving final notice. If
they persist then a court order can be sought which requires the ISP to
restrict the offender's broadband service. And if that also fails then his
internet access can be terminated by court order.
Having forecast this problem, and having spent
so much time working for solutions,
you will not be surprised that I care
deeply about the situation we're now in.
I'm no longer alone in expecting that we shall
receive almost all our 'intellectual property' through the internet - quite soon
now ... including TV, music and many books. The first industry that needed to adjust to a
digital world was music. The big record companies could have pioneered
legitimate downloading. They would have lost their 'downstream' role but
would have preserved their 'upstream' one, nurturing and promoting talent - creating a new
"Copyright Cycle" in which a smaller charge was paid by a larger audience.
Instead they clung to their traditional
business model - as a whole generation grew up believing music can be free.
And this has encouraged the
assumption that intellectual property
of all sorts (now costing nothing to distribute) can
Unless we're content with amateur work, it
In the UK the buck now passes from Stephen Timms (ex "Minister for
presumably to Jeremy Hunt the incoming "Minister for Culture,
Media, Olympics and Sport".
He created one of the UK's most successful specialist
publishers and websites.
I wish him well.
"The deeper a disagreement, the harder it is
for both sides to agree
what it is about!"
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