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Fighting piracy requires carrots, not just a big stick May 10, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet, Software.
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The Pirate Bay (TPB) is a Swedish website that links to online copies of music, films, and software – anything that can be easily copied and distributed online. It is possibly the single largest library of illegally copied intellectual property in the world and has been resistant to the authorities for many years, largely because they don’t store the content themselves and the links use very strong cryptography to mask the exact location of copied material.

As the law enforcement authorities have failed to stop sites like TPB the UK courts (after an action raised by the British Phonographic Institute) decided to tell Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to just block access – preventing all but the most determined users from accessing them. This week, Virgin Media became the first UK ISP to stop their users from accessing TPB.

It did not go well. The Anonymous hackers collective attacked Virgin Media’s website and brought it down on May 9th for over one hour. Four other British ISPs have vowed to block access to TPB and BT is about to decide on their position.

The ISPs are in a difficult position as they are being forced to censor their service – preventing access to a particular site – yet they have always managed to stand aside from these debates in the past, arguing that they just provide the infrastructure and can’t be expected to police what people do online.

The bottom line for organisations like the BPI is that piracy will only end when the legal route to owning movies and music is easier than the illegal. Services like Spotify and Netflix are now making on demand legal renting of content far easier than searching for illegal copies. Perhaps they should be focusing on making the carrot, rather than the stick, a lot bigger, because banning access to a single pirate site is like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

Pirate deck at Club Earl

Photo by Earl licensed under Creative Commons

To Tweet or not to Tweet May 4, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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When the footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed because of a cardiac arrest during a recent game most online fans were sending out messages of hope – pray for Muamba was a recurring message on Twitter at the time. But one young student at Swansea University, Liam Stacey, chose to send out abusive racist messages abusing the footballer just as he was fighting for his life.

Stacey was found guilty under the Racially Aggravated s4A Public order Act 1986 and was sentenced to 56 days in jail and his university told him to not bother coming back to complete his finals. So the messages we post on Twitter are not ephemeral. They do have meaning and can be treated as published words in the eye of the law.

But Twitter is still a free for all. Take a look at the profiles of many people where they state their company and job title. Often there is an extra line saying ‘these are my personal views, not those of my employer’.

Really? But nobody has ever tested this in court and isn’t it obvious that if you have announced on your profile who you work for then surely that company will have an interest in what you are publishing if it diverges far from what they would call their ‘brand values’?

And what of the retweet dilemma? Imagine you work for an Israeli company and you notice a news story about academics trying to make ‘Mein Kampf’ available in Germany once again. You retweet the story because it is interesting then someone in your company asks why you are endorsing the wider availability for the works of Adolf Hitler.

Who is right? Does a retweet merely indicate that this is something interesting you want to share, or is it an implicit endorsement of what you are linking to?

None of this has been tested in court yet so I am sure the coming years are going to feature many more Liam Stacey’s – lives ruined because of an ill-judged Tweet.

Fabrice Muamba Tribute

Photo by Ronnie MacDonald licensed under Creative Commons