Thursday, January 29, 2009

Subsidising the war on downloading

Part of the Digital Britain paper that catches our eye is the proposal that there should be a fighting fund to 'stamp out' piracy online.

You have to weep at the idea that anyone could publish a document supposedly shaping the nation's electronic future while believing that online piracy is something that can be stamped out. It's like thinking that taking on a few more police and making Crimewatch UK go weekly will stop all burglaries, forever.

But let's at least look at the idea as if it's designed to reduce piracy, or at least frustrate pirates. Or, more honestly, to spur the creation of ever-more inspired workarounds - because that could be it: by making it harder to get to the unlicensed material, you inspire people to innovative new ways of sucking down the material, or washing off the DRM, or sharing without anyone noticing. Maybe this is the heart of Digital Britain, the secret plan: driving more and more users to become skilled hackers, thereby having a massive army of experts to draw on in the future. It's almost brilliant. If that is the plan.

What is the proposal?

Lord Carter of Barnes, the Communications Minister, will propose the creation of a quango, paid for by a charge that could amount to £20 a year per broadband connection. The idea will be at the heart of the Digital Britain Green Paper to be unveiled by ministers, which includes plans to create jobs by boosting broadband take-up.

Yes, for some reason, everyone in the country with a broadband connection is going to have to fund this government body; a government body whose sole business is protecting the copyrights of private companies, many of which are based outside Europe.

And twenty quid a year? For a few quid more than that annually, the Isle Of Man is proposing that their citizenry get the right to help themselves to whatever music they fancy. If you're in Douglas, you pay a quid a week and get every song Olivia Newton John has ever recorded, The King And I soundtrack and the entire Slayer back catalogue. If you live in Cheltenham, you pay about 45 pence a week and get some unelected officials in a office block operating under the banner of OfLoad or something similar, sending you snippy letters for daring to try and find a copy of a song ripped from an old 78.

I can't help finding one idea slightly more attractive than the other.