Digital Britain

I spent lots of tax-payers money to draft a report, and all I got was a lousy key
We spent lots of tax-payer's money drafting a report, and all we got was a lousy key.

The final Digital Britain report was released yesterday. It is long, filled with something for everyone, from digital radio to a new broadband strategy. Some interesting commentary already from panGloss, Charles Arthur, Chris Marsden, and TorrentFreak. The report will be dissected by Internet pundits in the following days, but I will add a few comments and highlight some aspects that I have found interesting.

Although there are some topics such as net neutrality and broadband that interest me greatly, the chapter that has received most press coverage has been the one dealing with the Creative Industries. I am on record criticising the interim report for its lack of vision when it comes to digital content, and I am sad to say that the final report is perhaps even more disappointing. Digital content is still very much a top-down exercise according to UK regulators, and the Web 2.0 revolution does not really merit more than few mentions. I found this paragraph quite telling:

“The popularity of X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent shows the enduring drawing power of content-creating talent that few people possess. The digital world allows more of that talent to find its way to more consumers and admirers than ever before. But it is not wholly democratic: some have the talent to create content; many others do not. As throughout history, there need to be workable mechanisms to ensure that content-creators are rewarded for their talent and endeavour. And the need for investor confidence is key. User generated videos can be hugely popular, but there remains a healthy appetite for big movies costing many millions to produce.”

What a preposterously condescending and misinformed thing to say. This type of binary thinking about content is precisely what has made the traditional content industries seem like the fossilised dinosaur bones they often pretend they are not. It is possible to design strategies to accomodate both user-generated content and traditional owners without dismissing the participatory web in such manner.

With regards to enforcement, the report completely buys into the self-reported losses from the copyright industry as the basis for their suggested action against piracy. If you really want to have evidence-based policy, then surely you should rely on independent research, and not the bloated figures from interested parties. Thankfully, the report does not propose legislative action immediately, but it will initiate a consultation process (the consultation paper is already out). The consultation will look at giving Ofcom powers to compel ISPs to send notification letters to infringers, as they claim that there is enough research that proves such measures are successful. However, tougher action is needed, and technical solutions are proposed:

“For that reason the Government will also provide for backstop powers for Ofcom to place additional conditions on ISPs aimed at reducing or preventing online copyright infringement by the application of various technical measures. In order to provide greater certainty for the development of commercial agreements, the Government proposes to specify in the legislation what these further measures might be; namely: Blocking (Site, IP, URL), Protocol blocking, Port blocking, Bandwidth capping (capping the speed of a subscriber’s Internet connection and/or capping the volume of data traffic which a subscriber can access); Bandwidth shaping (limiting the speed of a subscriber’s access to selected protocols/services and/or capping the volume of data to selected protocols/services); Content identification and filtering– or a combination of these measures.”

So, early reports about the implementation of technical solutions were accurate, and repeated infringers will see their connections stopped. I will stick my neck out and say that these will do little to stop repeat infringers. Just yesterday the Pirate Bay announced that it would be offering a VPN service called IPREDATOR. Once again, the pirates are one step ahead of the armada.

It will be interesting to see the result of the consultation. Just reading through the document it becomes evident where it is headed, highlighting once more industry figures. I found another telling sign that the conclusions will be pro-industry, when I read that the consultation highlights the list of most pirated video games of 2008. At the top of the list is Spore. Perhaps the drafters of the report do not know that Spore is the primary example of an industry own goal, as its ridiculous DRM actually prompted people to download the game, even if they had purchased a copy.

Stay tuned for more developments, this one has legs.

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