Category Archives: Copyright

European Parliament rejects ACTA!

Green Party members demonstrate against ACTA at yesterday's vote, photo by Christian Lutz for Associated Press

Phishing email cites Digital Economy Act

And so it begins…

Image of phishing email received this afternoon

Image of phishing email received this afternoon, citing the Digital Economy Act

I received this email this afternoon, accusing me of copyright infringement and demanding £50. The Open Rights Group have published the full text of the email. Note that this happens only three days after OfCom publish their plans to notify users suspected of copyright infringement. I wonder how many people will be taken in by similar scams?

My piece on James Joyce and the public domain in the Atlantic Wire

Update: The piece has been picked up by Techdirt, where it is being discussed at some length.

I’ve written a short piece for Atlantic Wire celebrating the first Bloomsday since James Joyce entered the public domain. In it, I bemoan the extension of copyright terms.

This weekend I am traveling to a dual celebration, of a great Irish writer and of copyright freedom. For June 16 is Bloomsday, the day in 1904 captured through the eyes of Leopold Bloom by James Joyce in his epic novel Ulysses. Each year in Dublin fans of Joyce gather to celebrate the work in a day of public readings conducted at locations across the city that are featured in the book.

2012 is a special year for these Joyceans. The 71st since Joyce’s death, it marks the first — across the EU at any rate — that his work may be shared freely among them, without needing permission — for public readings, performances, or re-interpretations — from his estate. This is no small matter: since inheriting the estate in 1982, Joyce’s grandson Stephen Joyce has gained a reputation as the most controlling literary executor in history.

Read the rest here.

Marilyn Monroe reads Ulysses

Spotted! Me at Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge

I will be appearing on a panel after a screening of RIP: A Remix Manifesto at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse this Saturday. The screening starts at 3pm. Why not buy a ticket and come along?

RIP artwork

Here’s what the Arts Picturehouse website has to say about the film:

Biomedical engineer turned live-performance sensation Girl Talk, has received immense commercial and critical success for his mind-blowing sample-based music. Utilizing technical expertise and a ferocious creative streak, Girl Talk repositions popular music to create a wild and edgy dialogue between artists from all genres and eras. But are his practices legal? Do his methods of frenetic appropriation embrace collaboration in its purest sense? Or are they infractions of creative integrity and violations of copyright?

I watched it a while back on the small screen, and I have yet to see a film that betters it at explaining the nuances of the copyright debate.

With me on the panel will be John Naughton, Jussi Parikka and Geoff Gamlen, all chaired by the wonderful Bill Thompson.

My aim will be to use the term “semiotic democracy” at least once. If you’re coming, and you hear me succeed, holler out.

Help raise £20K in 20 days for Just Do It, an exciting new CC film about climate change activism

One of the last things I did before I quit being ED of ORG was to visit Brussels to implore MEPs not to extend copyright term in sound recordings. The hearing was dominated by members of the Green grouping. I remember one of them commenting after the speech that the various extensions to copyright law – both in term and in scope – that Brussels has been asked to consider over the years were contributing to a sort of pollution that would eventually damage the cultural landscape irrevocably. It was a powerful metaphor, and one which has stuck with me.

For the past year I’ve been helping, in a very modest way, to advise the talented team behind Just Do It, a documentary about climate change activists, their cause and the way they go about advocating for it. Emily James, the Director of the film, is a passionate and inspiring film-maker, whose past credits include (as writer/producer/director) The Luckiest Nut in the World, (as producer/director) The Battle for Broadway Market and (as Executive Producer) The Age of Stupid. Just Do It is currently in post-production: once finished it will be released Creative Commons NC ND. Which, of course, is excellent news.

Emily tells me that as she’s gone around the country explaining what she’s up to (this woman is seriously tireless), she’s often had to give her climate-conscious audience a primer in Creative Commons, because they’ve never heard of it. She says that once they hear about Creative Commons, though, they love the idea, and I have to say I’m not surprised. Like the planet, the sum of human knowledge is a common resource, a public good, and yet much like free market capitalism does for natural resources, the copyright system is getting worse and worse at protecting the public good aspects of human knowledge. Libraries find it increasingly difficult to archive our cultural heritage, creators find it increasingly difficult to use the signs and symbols around them to tell stories to the rest of us without bumping into a grumpy lawyer from a global media corporation.

Given this similarity, what’s even more interesting is the way that the establishment goes into lockdown when IP reform campaigners and climate change advocates alike try and voice their concerns. We’ve just seen the final round of the secret Anit-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement wind down in Tokyo. The result is less worrying than everybody feared – thanks to the excellent work of KEI and La Quadrature du Net at smoking out those rats. But what’s really frightening is that democratic governments ever thought it was okay to make law like this, given that last time I checked institutions like WIPO, that have worked hard to establish a voice for civil society in the small matter of the enclosure of the mind, are still alive, well, and providing excellent meeting facilities in Geneva. Similarly, part of the story of Just Do It is about the measures law enforcement have taken to silence those activists willing to devote their lives to saving the planet for all of us, often using legislation meant to combat terrorism.

So three cheers for Just Do It. Although I thought my begging days were over once I’d left ORG, it seems that I’ve got one last puff left in me, so here goes. The team are trying to raise £20,000 towards finishing the film and Lush cosmetics will match anything you donate in the next 20 days. So I’m coming over all Charles Satchi and donating £150 today. I hope you will too – visit this page to find out why they’re crowdsourcing funding, what they’ll spend the money on and what privileges you get when you become such an esteemed patron of the arts. Go on, get off your arse and change the world!

Three Strikes… and you’re out?

Could it be the curse of Gowers? It’s been over 3 years since the former Financial Times editor made his seemingly doomed 39th recommendation in his otherwise excellent review of intellectual property:

Observe the industry agreement of protocols for sharing data between ISPs and rights holders to remove and disbar users engaged in ‘piracy’. If this has not proved operationally successful by the end of 2007, Government should consider whether to legislate.

Since then, it seems every minister tasked with overseeing implementing his idea has only just got in post before they are running for the door again. The news today that Sion Simon MP will step down as creative industries minister (and, indeed, get out of Westminster altogether) inspired me to write a list of all the other Ministers I could think of who’ve once been responsible for this policy, then legged it.

  • Baroness Delyth Morgan (reshuffled)
  • Baroness Shriti Vadera (stepped down to advise G20)
  • Andy Burnham MP (promoted)
  • Lord Stephen Carter (resigned)
  • Sion Simon MP(resigned)

I’m not sure this list is chronological, or indeed exhaustive – please help me revise it if you can. And of course, it may yet be incomplete. Last Summer, I predicted that the Digital Economy Bill – the latest zombie incarnation of this wretched policy – would be Peter Madelson’s undoing. I remain hopeful I was right.

Greeting your public

This week’s Net Report went live on the New Statesman’s website this morning. I note that Ben Goldacre posts the unedited copy of his weekly Bad Science column to his blog. This seems like a fair enough convention, so I propose to follow it, too. You can read the edited version here.

PR exists to convince the majority at the wrong end of the celebrity power law that the minority at the other end deserve to be there, satisfying our – objectively, ludicrous – desire that someone who can jump high, sing in tune, or paint also has both acceptably bland political views and great hair. Thus does PR perpetuate an aspirational culture that decouples man’s interests from his fellow man. So hurrah for the internet, which promises to destroy PR doom by putting celebrities directly in touch with their fans.

But there are still rules of engagement. Monty Python – so geek-chic they have a computer programming language named after them – get it right. Last year, bored with low-quality rip-offs of their videos appearing on the net without permission, they released their most popular clips free-to-view on their own YouTube channel, the only way they saw of taking the power back, short of “coming after you in ways too horrible to tell”. This mixture of generosity and contempt has continued to win nerd hearts, Eric Idle’s latest offering “Eric Idle responds to your fatuous comments” (96,474 views so far) earning nothing but praise, despite mocking its intended audience without relent. Perhaps in this era of participation for all, it’s only right for the audience to be the punchline?

Lily Allen got it right in the early days, too. When she blogged about feeling ashamed of her weight in 2007, she won enough sympathy for most people to later forgive her ignoring our advice and going a bit Atkins anyway. But – oops – then she tried politics. And not just any politics, the internet’s own electric fence issue: copyright infringement. In her new blog,, she defended the government’s plans to disconnect persistent filesharers from the internet. But if she was looking for New England, what she found was neither green nor pleasant.

Quicker than you can say High Court Injunction, the internet hordes had descended, pointing to two mp3 mixes of other people’s songs on offer – without permission – from another of her sites. With both blog and infringing mixes since taken down, it looks like the web has found its own Baroness Scotland. And in a sweet bit of creative destruction, the star of the piece is emerging as musician Dan Bull, whose Letter to Lily Allen (162,895 views so far) would surely make Christmas number 1, if only EMI would license the backing track.

Copysouth website relaunch

Copyright criminalThe team at Copysouth have relaunched their website today. Established in December 2004, this loosely-affiliated group of researchers seek to investigate the consequences of the global copyright system. Here’s a little bit more about their work on openDemocracy.

Their 2006 academic study into the negative effects on education and development of exporting Western copyright norms to the Global South is still a must-read.

How it makes of your face a stone…

I have had Carol Ann Duffy’s first poem as laureate – Politics – stuck up on my fridge since it was published in June. Tucked somewhere within it is the reason I decided I’d had enough of lobbying in Westminster and Brussels and handed in my notice at the Open Rights Group.

Today, Lord Mandelson has occasioned a re-reading of this excellent verse. His Department for Business has released a statement detailing an “evolution in their thinking” on the issue of how to tackle illicit sharing of copyrighted files across peer to peer networks. The aspect of this evolution that has caught the attention of the popular press is that disconnecting internet connections (the “three-strikes and you’re out” model recently ruled unconstitutional in France) is now back on the table. Given this, I’m not sure the word “evolution” or even, for that matter, “thinking” applies.

Shall we pretend this matters? Shall we again list the reasons why excluding – punitively, yet without due process – British citizens from the most transformative communications medium of the last several hundred years is a poor policy response to the failure of an over-consolidated and outmoded industry to adapt their business practices to consumer demand?

Mandelson is not the first Minister at BIS/BERR/DTI to believe, no doubt after a few visits from some sexy people in the record / movie industries, that the illicit filesharing issue needs nothing more than his personal political touch for it all to be solved. Not politics, then, so much as vanity. On the bright side, as the complexities of this issue reveal themselves once more, and Mandy’s self-belief fades as quickly as his suntan, at least the resulting public failure to deliver on this “evolution” might prove humiliating enough to permanently mark the “three strikes” model with Whitehall’s “Here Be Dragons” stamp, ensuring that even the most cloth-eared Tory successor would be unlikely to go near it come next year. Although of course, to ensure this happens, we should all continue supporting the work of my less jaded and remarkably patient former colleagues at the Open Rights Group.

In the meantime, the civil servants at BIS tasked with delivering actual workable policies on this issue must be sighing heavily and mentally postponing their retirement again today.