Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Two Rules, Same Issue

Hot foot from his sleazy holiday on an expensive boat in Corfu, courtesy of David Geffen of Dreamworks, Lord Mandelson personally intervened to strengthen laws against those who download music or films illegally. He did not attack the real perpetrators of the crimes, those who steal the content, but the people who take advantage.

Think about this. Suppose you invent something really clever and you then patent it. Next step, you bring it to market somehow and you find it is serving a need and it becomes successful. The next thing you know, another company or individual steals the exact same idea, even though you have a patent, and starts to make and then sell an almost identical product at a slightly less price. You would have incurred all the development costs associated with bringing the real thing to market, the 'cloner' would have simply capitalised on all that expense and taken a slightly lower margin to whip you with the same idea.

In law, there is nothing stopping people buying the 'cloned' product. We are getting some pretty poor attempts to stop the illegal trading of designer label goods like clothes, but that's a brand protection issue not inventions. Realistically patents are swiped every day in the area of technology and there is huge money in it. If the owner of the patent wants to do anything about it, then they can only sue the violator of their patent and that is a long, expensive and nasty process. You only have to look at what happens when you see Apple's incredibly long running dispute with Microsoft over the infringement on their patent on an operating system using windows.

Notice how this long running sore and drain on people's ideas has never been tackled. Despite serial inventors like Trevor Baylis lobbying Mandelson, nothing will get done as he has no expensive yacht and he wields no power in the world of business and commerce. There are no plumb non-executive jobs at stake or any movements in the world of the rich and famous. Inventing can be the grubby domain of garage-based grease monkeys who have passion and commitment, for who the money is really a bonus - it is the invention that provides the stimulus.

Not so in the high octane world of David Geffen and his peers. The laboratories and offices are full of the latest hi-tech kit and littered with the brainiest of talent who work on taking other people's ideas and turning them into films. Often, unless you are people like JK Rowling, who have their own way of controlling their income by having the much needed sequels in their head, the writers get little return compared to the producers, actors and others who distribute the content in the digital world. The popstars have to be pretty hot and consistent to keep the mincing machine going which is why people like Geffen and Cowell deal in the numbers game - and are so incredibly rich.

In the new digital world, it is the creators and inventors who are preyed upon by the likes of Google who take their content like any old piece of junk and just distribute it. Today you can buy ebooks by any old duff author who couldn't sell an actual book alongside the classics. Google is strangling the life out of news too by making the value of the content almost worthless but the distribution is worth billions.

So in the new digital age, Mandelson rides roughshod over inventors who have genuine patents logged and waves two fingers at them by focusing laws only on the digital age. He has even made those laws geared toward the downloaders, the equivalent of nobbling those of us who by PCs with Windows, which was 'allegedly' invented by Apple. It's actually the wrong way around as you need to stop the actual thieves.

But no, life at the top is all about being smooched by rich people. Laws are crafted far more carefully if wealthy people directly gain as then you have some favours to call in later. The new Digital Britain Laws are absolutely barking up the wrong tree. If content, illegally replicated is made available on the web, the people who replicated it should be the ones prosecuted. There is so much free content made available on the web, it is crazy to implement laws which puts the onus on individual users to check the intellectual property rights of the source of their download - it is sheer lunacy and flies in the face of digital media and freedom to access content. This is a problem the software and media industry should solve, not users.

Mandelson has got it completely wrong. Should he now be attacking all of us for not checking whether Microsoft has infringed any IP before we buy their products? No, he doesn't ask us that but frankly, there is a fair bet they have in many cases judging by the amount of companies who sue them each year. Such companies are far too rich and nice in his eyes to bring a case against them. The same actually goes for David Geffen and his peer companies - have they observed the rights of all the individuals and companies they should have in producing their content?

Why should ISPs knowlingly allow illegal content to be made available via their portals to the web - why are they not prosecuted instead of their customers?

This is a huge blow to the individual freedom of any user of a PC and having access to the web. It has meant that we, the users, are responsible for checking the validity of the IP of all content, not the people who distribute it. Content aggregators like Google, ISPs, telecom companies, and all others who present content to us over the web just got off scot free. Should anybody who is prosecuted under these new laws have a case against their ISP for allowing the content to be downloaded in the first place?

The users have become the criminals, the people the furthest from the source of the alleged crimes. Welcome to Digital Britain, Mandelson style.

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