Media Madness


Interesting times if you like music or film.

First of all, some news that has retained it’s power to shock over the past week or so. Lord Mandelson, ignoring the eight months of work that has gone into the report on Digital Britain, has decided that penalties for persistent file-sharers should include shutting off their internet connection.

This move is so wildly flawed that I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that it was announced soon after Mandelson was wined and dined at a holiday villa in Corfu by David Geffen and Steven Spielberg. No conflict of interest there then. No openings for accusations of government policy being swayed by the interests of big business.

Let’s continue by noting the opposition to the plan from privacy campaigners, ISPs, the artists that this bill is allegedly supposed to protect, and Labour Party MPs. Included in these dissenting voices is Tom Watson, until recently the man in charge of the government’s internet policy.

Let’s further note that these new proposals could fall foul of the law. Simon Davies of Privacy International has said:

“This proposal fundamentally reverses the onus of proof. It establishes systemic accusation. It is fraught with technical impossibility, it invites circumvention and creates a major online conflict between rights holders and users. And these are fundamental rights that are being violated.”

Larry Whitty, chairman of Consumer Focus, further makes the point:

“Cutting people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate, and to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them undermines fundamental rights to a fair trial.”

Digital Britain contains largely sensible and pragmatic approaches to the problem of file-sharing, and to all intents and purposes has been ridden over roughshod by business interests who see dropping profits, and can only attempt to combat the threat by criminalising their customer base. Despite the fact that a lot of the research they tout to strengthen their case is based on numbers that are not just wrong, but appear to have been made up.

This post on No Rock And Roll Fun counters Mandelson’s arguments and demolishes them point by point. To my mind, what we have here is an opportunistic landgrab that’s been heavily influenced by external interests, ill-thought out, rushed through and potentially illegal. So pretty much par for the course for media and internet legislation from this government, then.

Another piece of flawed legislation pertaining to new media was the 1984 Video Recordings Act, AKA The Video Nasty Act. Famously, it empowered the BBFC to apply certification to home entertainment, and banned a ton of cheap and dirty horrors that are now beginning to return to UK shelves. The Act is old, and really no longer fit for purpose. In recent years it has caused independent film-makers all kinds of problems. You have to pay the BBFC for every minute of content that goes onto a DVD if you want it to be certificated, and therefore legal to sell in the UK. All the extras, any little shorts, even text and audio commentaries. All of this can run into thousands of pounds of unwarranted expense, and act as a fairly major deterrent to getting your film onto disc and legally into the UK market.

Imagine the shock and surprise in the UK indiefilm community then, when it was ruled that the Act was rushed through so quickly that it was never properly enacted. It’s not law. Which means that for a giddy few months, we are free to make and market unrated films without any fear of prosecution, or without the financial burden hanging over us from the BBFC. This bit from The Times tells the story, although the headline is hardly what I’d call unbiased journalism. The Melon Farmers have a bit more of an objective view.

Of course, the danger is that the government now has a chance to strengthen the bill, and clamp down even harder on a market that is one of the most censored and constrain in Europe. There is a chance for fundamental reform, and as per usual it’s up to us to make our voice heard.

There’s a Facebook group. Of course there’s a Facebook group. There’s always a bloody Facebook group. But it’s coming up under the auspices of the Pleased Sheep guys, who know what they’re talking about when it comes to these issues. I have already shown my support. Are you there yet?

Finally, another ray of good news, which could become a fundamental switch in the way we consume media, or at least music. Despite all logic and reason, Apple approved the Spotify iPhone App, and it went live on Monday. This is astonishing news. The App means that with a 3G or Wi-Fi connection, millions of tracks become available instantly. You can create playlists of your favourites that can be accessed offline, when you’re on the tube, for example, and it seems to work pretty flawlessly. No more worries about filling your hard disc. There are terabytes of music at your fingertips.

It costs, of course, and this is where things get interesting. The app won’t work without a £10/month subscription, although the desktop app that’s been doing grand service for me over the past few months has a free, ad-supported version. But this is a brilliant move, and paves the way to a subscription-based service where money starts going back into the industry, to the artists, and piracy becomes less of a problem. Research has shown that consumers are more than willing to pay a fair price for their music, and 33p a day seems pretty darn fair to me.

There are caveats, of course. Classical buffs will find their choices a bit variable, and as I’ve mentioned before, there are questions about royalty payments to artists. But let’s try and be positive. There have been concerns about Spotify’s ability to monetise the service, and that question has been answered by the flood of people signing up for Premium. We may be seeing the birth of the answer to the music industry’s woes. And if that gets them off our back legislatively speaking, then I’ll be happy.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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