Hard News by Russell Brown


Get yer avatars out

Right, you can turn your avatars back on again. Although the dispute at its heart is far from over, the Internet Blackout protest concluded when this morning's wide-ranging blackout of blogs and other websites did, at noon.

I think that's about right. The protest virtually came out of nowhere last week -- it was conceived in a schoolroom in Warkworth on the Saturday, and enacted on the Monday. The mobilisation involved was really remarkable. But you lose a lot of nuance in protest mode.

I do understand that the copyright owners have felt under siege on this one. The troll who sent aggressive emails to record companies and posted their responses in the forums of the Creative Freedom Foundation website forums certainly didn't help (the whole thread was deleted by Matthew Holloway).

On the other hand, Bronwyn Holloway-Smith and various others on the protest side were understandably creeped out by the phone calls they received from a man with a weird accent, who was apparently trying to trap them into endorsing copyright infringement. That was just as wrong.

Even if they feel hard done by, I hope the rights holders can accept that the people protesting have been motivated by principle, rather than personality. I suspect the feeling behind the protest has been building in increments, and this was the final straw.

Section 92A is a measure government officials advised should be deleted from the copyright amendment bill. It was explicitly opposed by a wide range of submitters and interested parties, including the Consumers Institute. The select committee that heard submissions removed it from the bill. It was reinserted without debate at the last moment.

The overseas jurisdictions whose plans helped underwrite a rationale for the measure -- the UK, Germany, the EU -- have reversed those plans since November, in some cases describing the measure as a breach of human rights. To say it is controversial ain't the half of it.

Was the protest a success? Yes. On February 13, the rights owners stance on the draft code of conduct for ISPs was that they should be in the sole position to adjudicate their own claims, and that they should be make to pursue those claims without incurring any of the cost of the process, which should fall entirely on ISPs. Now, they can't understand why no one grasped that they were never opposed to an independent dispute resolution process.

That's a big shift. But the code is months away from agreement. A vague law that relies overwhelmingly on an unfinished code should, at the least, be delayed.

The protest was also a success because it has fostered a new voice on copyright and creative issues; one that isn't an industry or technical body. The Creative Freedom Foundation's petition has 12,000 names -- and 8000 of the signatories identify themselves as artists. That's remarkable. It has attracted worldwide attention.

I'm tapped out on this for now, but I'm not going away. My main intention is to try and encourage both sides of this argument to demonstrate and assume good faith in the other. That will mean the protest side not demonising the rights holders (whilst continuing to critique their present stance) and the rights holders not opening every conversation by dismissing those who disagree with them as mere mongers of piracy. None of that helps.

PS: Happy days! The interviews with various interesting people (Tom Coates, Joel Pitt, Vik Olliver, Daniel Spector and Damian Conway) at Foo Camp have been uploaded to the Media7 blog. Unfortunately, the professional Avid suite we hire turns out to be completely shit at exporting for web use, and would only do so a very low resolution. TV really ain't the web. Thanks a lot to Sacha Childers for wrestling with the machine to get what we did.

PPS: You might still be seeing Blackout banner ads. I'm trying to get them to stop.

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