Op Ed: Neil Cartwright On Why UK’s Digital Economy Bill Is Technology Censorship

Neil Cartwright is the Head of Digital at Media Junction Marketing Agency and blogs about the music industry and modern music marketing.

image from www.election2010updates.com I’ve been involved in digital music longer than 99.9% of people I know. Since 1997 I’ve licensed music for both a major record label (Sony) and one of the world’s largest Independent music distributors, The Orchard.

The Digital Economy Bill is flawed. And in my opinion John Kennedy, Geoff Taylor and Feargal Sharkey are showing a misunderstanding of how the Internet works and setting a dangerous course towards censorship of new technology.

image from www.dvorak.org John Kennedy’s quote says a lot about his thinking: “The new UK legislation is a decisive step towards dealing with P2P and other forms of illegal distribution in a way that can substantially reduce the problem.“

In his view, it is P2P that is the problem.

No – it is the fact so few record labels will license P2P networks, therefore making them illegal, that is the problem.

"P2P is not inherently illegal distribution."

P2P is a highly effective way of distributing large files such as music and video. However, it is difficult to offer P2P in an single track format (like iTunes) so it must be offered on a subscription basis with ‘All You Can Eat’. These networks also contain a broad mixture of content – original tracks, live recordings, bootlegs, video, remixes, covers etc – which make them extremely difficult to monitor and audit.

This is why so few have been licensed.

P2P is not inherently ‘illegal distribution’ and many P2P networks have tried to engage with labels (Napster, Limewire, Playlouder etc). However, traditional licensing authorities have faced huge difficulties handling the complexity of the technology.

Incredibly, the DEB now gives record labels and movie studios the power to block these networks rather than deal with them and work out a licensing structure. The technology is, in fact, being censored because it doesn’t conform with someone’s idea of what constitutes a workable model. Note: the site itself and the technology will still exist – it will simply be ‘blocked’ so no-one in the UK can see it. Does this sound like a good policy for a nation heading towards a digital future?

But the one, simple, reason the DEB is insane? In one word – Google

Or put another way, even if a site is blocked it will still get indexed by Google.

Go to Google.com and search “Odyssey’s Use It Up, Wear It Out + MP3″, as I did the other day. (Or click here.) Now check the sites that are listed, and in particular, BeeMp3. Click the link. You can now download the track.

So, John, Feargal & Geoff – get to work, go and get your court order and force ISP’s to block BeeMp3!

But wait – wasn’t it Google that lead me there in the first place? Does that mean Google should be blocked too? Well, no, because they just search and link don’t they….. oh, hang on…. that’s what BeeMP3 do too. It’s an MP3 search engine. And my Odyssey track is, in fact, downloaded from a guy in Seattle who writes a blog called Dance With Robot and occasionally he posts MP3’s.

I can hear Geoff, John & Feargal – “Well, the difference between Google & BeeMP3 is that Google is used for more than just infringement whilst BeeMP3 is 100% music and facilitates piracy”

OK, well here comes a shock – Hype Machine is an MP3 search engine too. And Elbo.ws. Both these sites are courted daily by labels to gain exposure for their new tracks. Will they be shut down too?

Search “any track+mp3″ and Google is still going to show links to sites like BeeMP3. And after John, Geoff & Feargal have issued their court order, what will I see when I click the link? An apology from my ISP? A blocked site?  Or will the court order be against the blogger?

Feargal insists blocking will only be ‘a last resort’. After what steps? Likely a demand from the BPI to the website or blogger to take the material down. However, most sites are based outside of the UK. Even assuming they’re huge fans of Teenage Kicks I seriously doubt many foreign sites will take any notice, meaning the ‘last resort’ will almost always be reached.

Which sites could get blocked next? Court orders against lyric sites that feature published songs? Or Ultimate Guitar for displaying chord tabs and lyrics which are copyrighted?

Soon, a search on Google will simply result in a long list of “Sorry, this site has been blocked by the Secretary of State” (sounds a bit like China doesn’t it?)

I’m actually not worried by the DEB. The flaws in it are so inherent that I doubt very much it will survive long after the first court order is thrown out. Then, perhaps, other people will question why the music industry is being represented by three people with an apparent lack in understanding of new technology in a digital age.

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