Sunday, March 16, 2003

COMMUNICATIONS (BILL) BREAKDOWN: Simon Tyers - think Andy Marr, but less frightening to behold unexpectedly - has been waiting at our front door with a report on the communications bill, and in particular the whole vexed question of music piracy:

The Communications Bill had its final discussion in Parliament on the 4th - it's much longer than previous discussions, but most of it is about broadband availability and the structure of Ofcom, but some time was taken up with piracy discussion. First question, arising from a Chris Smith quote : "A recent poll in the United States found that 62 per cent. of the 18-to-29 age group... had copied or downloaded music or movies across the internet, and three quarters of those knew that it was illegal when they did so." 25% didn't know it was illegal despite all the Napster press coverage?
This is in relation to Ofcom's potential future development of new anti-piracy technology : "the new clause (does not) seek to enable Ofcom to impose anything on any parts of the industry: the telecoms companies, the content providers or any of the service providers. What it enables Ofcom to do is to draw all those parties together into a discussion, and, I hope, into a voluntary agreement to examine what technological standards can be introduced to try to make piracy more difficult." However, this looks like a mass of nothing, as Smith later admits that there is very little he can do towards companies who both manufacture the source discs and the copying equipment, and that it's a double edged sword, trying to bring about a Net piracy decline while discussing a bill promoting broadband rollout. You've probably heard all the arguments before, but an interesting side comment from John Whittingdale (Conservative), who was in what is now the culture department and considered some sort of action on blank tapes at the height of Home Taping Is Killing Music until "the industry accepted that the practice could not be stopped and a second-best solution was offered - a levy on tapes that would be redistributed to the music industry as compensation for lost sales." Whittingdale later refers to a case in Norway where a 15 year old developed and made available software for cracking DVD copy protection for Linux systems, the copyright owner took him to court, and the judgement was that he could do what he wanted with it - the problem many bring up is the requirement for international co-operation to ward off sites based in China or wherever. The clause was withdrawn from the bill to aid its immediate progress as there was some dispute over who would be in charge of policing online piracy, but it's likely to later return.

The only other part of the transcript of note was sparked off by Chris Bryant (Labour) : "Probably 95% of the people with whom I was at school at the age of 18 copied Top of the Pops on to a cassette on a Sunday evening so that they could listen to it at various times during the week. I see hon. Members around the Chamber nodding, including Conservative Members and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Richard Allan (Lib Dem)), who as I can remember his constituency will get into Hansard for having engaged in that illegal activity." To which Allan later adds, "Yes, I freely confess that I was a Top of the Pops taper in my youth. [Interruption] I am asked whether I drank R. White's lemonade. I was not such a slave to advertising." He later has a discussion with the MP for Rhondda about whether there is a local shop called A Fish Called Rhondda (there is, a chip shop).

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