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Imbeciles: the second round

The Digital Economy Bill gets stinkier the longer it sits unflushed in the toilet of the parliamentary process.

Last week I was angry, but now it's personal:

The Digital Economy Bill, published on Friday, will bring in unexpected registration requirements and government control over authors' agents and some publishers, according to copyright experts at national law firm Beachcroft LLP. Such agents — along with certain picture libraries, software resellers, record companies, film distributors and publishers — may need to register with the government, pay annual registration fees and be subject to codes of practice, backed up by criminal sanctions, if provisions regarding the control of 'licensing bodies' are brought in.

This unexpected impact relates to any 'organisation' which licences any copyright material created by more than one different individual — or acts as agent for any such owners. Although the intent of the Bill was to exercise greater control over Britain's major collecting societies, it is likely to catch thousands of agencies which negotiate licences of copyright works in all industries.

Bloody typical.

This ill-conceived bill, with its extrajudicial three-strikes' sanctions against people merely accused of copyright violation, already looked more like an exercise in licking the arse of rent-seeking media studios than any kind of attempt at enhancing the UK's creative industries. Now it's adding injury to insult. I rely on my literary agent to extract the best terms possible from my publishers. So do the majority of working authors. Agents are paid a commission of the author's take, so the cost of this licensing and registration bureaucracy is going to be passed directly to the authors.

Oh, and to add to the fun: I'm in a legal grey area if this shit goes through. My agent is American, based in the USA. She's part of a partnership and represents more than one British author. If she was in the UK, she'd definitely be in the firing line at this point; as she isn't ... where do we stand? Are foreign agents going to be barred from representing British authors to British publishers if they don't register but conduct their business from overseas? What about foreign agents representing British authors to other foreign publishers? Hello? Has anyone thought this through?

Grr.

85 Comments

1:

In answer to that last question:

Even if they had -- and it's lobbyist-written legislation, so you can probably guess the answer, even on your side of the Pond -- they wouldn't bloody care.

In answer to the other questions in that paragraph: Under ordinary choice-of-law principles (I didn't find anything in the Bill indicating anything otherwise), any registration requirement should apply only to agents who maintain a physical office in the UK. Maybe that means more and more UK agents will be going to Guernsey?

2:

Copyright exists for the benefit of society as a whole and not for the benefit of the writer or artist. The prohibition on totally free copying, modification, and distribution of works exists because encouraging creativity is to the benefit of society as a whole.

But once you start down that road of taking commercial advantage of the limitations of the others' freedom, it inevitably results in the loss of your own. Or at least that's what Stallman would say.

3:

Please arrange to see your MP as soon as is convenient, make sure they know exactly who you are, and have a good long rant at them about this mess. The government's pushing this one hard, so we need as much opposition as possible.

It's been rushed out because this session of Parliament is going to be cut short by the election and Labour wants to make the media companies happy - because they control the media spin on the campaign season, and could swing a number of contested seats that way.

There's nothing good in this bill. All the important parts, like extending internet access to people who don't already have it, got cut as "doesn't require legislation". With enough legwork, we can just kill the whole thing. It isn't likely to come back after the election.

4:

Sorry, but we're cutting your internet access for offering unlicensed copies of works by Charles Stross on your site.

5:

Maybe the best case you can hope for, besides killing this thing before it passes, is hope that it's so monsterous that the outrage forces the politicians to reverse it.

Not long ago, in Virginia, the local legislature blithely passed a law exacting multi thousand dollar fines on drivers who are decided to be "driving recklessly" by the officers who pull them over. The definition of "reckless driving" were essentially parallel to those of existing speeding laws, and after passage an alarming number of beltway drivers were slapped with what amounted to thousand dollar traffic tickets.

The end result is that the people very nearly recalled the entire stinking state senate before the thing was repealed. It was disgusting, but luckily it was so disgusting that we don't have to discuss frog+boiling water analogies.

6:

CEP: I am not going to write to my MP about this.

No, I am going to get off my arse, and -- in company with some other local novelists and the odd film producer -- we are going to visit him in his surgery next Friday and explain the Facts Of Life, from the point of view of folks working in the industry this law is supposed to help.

(And then, if he doesn't listen to us, we're going to start lobbying our neighbours to vote agin' him in the election that's due within seven months. As he's a Labour MP in a marginal constituency, this could potentially cause him a lot of grief.)

duckintheface: Stallman is an ideological anarchist -- and, in my opinion, a self-defeating idiot. (I've met him. His personal manners are calculated, shall we say, to anathematize rather than to evangelize.)

NB: I'm not a fan of copyright -- I just find myself unable to ignore it because it's the vehicle that [currently] brings in the pay cheques. If you want to preach at me that copyright, as it currently exists, is broken by design, don't bother -- I long since got the message. Just remember to offer an alternative mechanism by which creative types like me can earn a living, otherwise I will mock you.

7:

I just come back from a 4 days "work+leisure" trip to London.

Reading this and seeing other new regulations in UK I can say "UK is 'italianizing' its laws".
And, of course, is far from a good thing.

At least you still have good ale! :)

8:

Er, wont this "acts as agent" bit hit the free sites that license stuff through say creative commons licences? Maybe even any site claiming ownership of say review/feedback comments? Perhaps part of the intent...

9:

This might also have very interesting interactions with software licenses such as the GPL... Do I need to register if I give (or sell) someone an Ubuntu CD? Do I need to register if me and my buddy create something licensed under the GPL? What if we sell licensed under the GPL?

10:

CS: Stallman is an ideological anarchist -- and, in my opinion, a self-defeating idiot. (I've met him. His personal manners are calculated, shall we say, to anathematize rather than to evangelize.)

Well, he's not charming, I'll give you that. But I wouldn't say he's self-defeating. He has changed the world... in his own perversely anarchistic way. Would he have achieved more if he had been willing to compromise his intractable principles?

CS: I'm not a fan of copyright -- I just find myself unable to ignore it because it's the vehicle that [currently] brings in the pay cheques. If you want to preach at me that copyright, as it currently exists, is broken by design, don't bother -- I long since got the message. Just remember to offer an alternative mechanism by which creative types like me can earn a living, otherwise I will mock you.

God knows I want you to be able to make a living by continuing to create. You are my favorite author and in certain sections of certain works (the early chapters of Accelerando for instance), you offer the best writing I have ever seen in any genre.

I suspect there is an alternative involving self publishing (maybe online) coupled with much shorter periods of protection before works enter the public domain. But let's face it... the current system is built on charging large amounts of money for books relative to the marginal cost of producing them... and you are not the one getting that money. This pending legislation seems just one more instance of those with power using it to rake in more money. That does not help you or me. And please do mock me. I would take it as a privilege. :)

11:

I'm sure you must already have seen this further example of "the real world catches up with Mr Stross's predictions":

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8386003.stm

12:

Approaching your MP is an excellent idea. Long rant? Not so good. Us yank environmentalists have learned a lot of rules about dealing with the politicos over here. Here's a condensed list:

1. Keep it simple, ideally one page of simple talking points. They're busy, and they don't have time to do the analysis themselves. Do it for them.

2. If they've got staffs, find out who their point person is on the staff and talk to that person. Get to know them. They don't like screwing friends unnecessarily.

3. Get together with the other authors in your district. Numbers matter, and having several award-winning authors showing up and saying that this piece of stupidity is going to put you all out of business gets noticed.

4. When you get time to talk with your MP, make it fast, make it professional, DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER, and ideally, take along several people, one of whom ideally is a lawyer. If you care enough to even make a gesture towards legal action, that means that you've got enough skin in the game to be worth listening to.

5. Remember, the reason we have politicians is to handle the crap we don't want to deal with ourselves. As a result, the get to deal with a lot of crap, most of which they don't particularly care about. If you help them do their job better with minimal effort on their part, they'll appreciate it, just as we all do.

6. NEVER, EVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER when talking to a politician or bureaucrat. When was the last time that you bothered to listen to someone insulting you? You couldn't be arsed to listen to them, right? Why should an MP wanna listen to you ranting, then? (yes, the repetition is deliberate).

Hope this helps, and best of luck!

13:

Getting together with local authors and producers will make this an ideal media event. Any chance of getting the local (and national) TV stations and newspapers involved? So far, the public-at-large don't know much about this Digital Economy Bill!

There are some good journalists around who might be persuaded to pick up the cause.

14:

Denni: nope, unfortunately our MP is just one of 650 back-benchers. Zero political clout, not a member of the actual government (though he's of the governing party) ... and follows the Labour whip religiously. Our only real leverage is to point out that he risks pissing off constituents who he can't afford to lose if he wants to still have a seat in 12 months.

Heteromeles: all good points. However, bear in mind that British politics works differently. (In particular: individual MPs have to follow a tightly-whipped party line or risk losing central party support, or even being de-selected. The best we can hope for is for him to send a "guys, we have a problem -- the natives are restless" memo up the chain.)

15:

Charlie, I didn't mean the MP, I meant you and the other authors, and perhaps Cory Doctorov ;)

MP is just the hook for the local press.

16:

I'm wondering. Depending on how this obscenity is worded it could also scoop up Art Galleries, Art Exhibitions and Auctions as they represent/ act as temporary agents for multiple copyright holders, self publishers of Fan magazines which take/solicit contributions and as noted, Creative Commons and 'copyleft' publications.

17:

Sounds like the UK needs a Politician Licensing Board, made up of randomly selected citizens. One of its tasks should be to meticulously ensure that all candidates from office are in personal compliance with all laws and regulations in their private lives. Such certification should be required prior to any standing for office, and these investigations should be completed at a normal bureaucratic pace.

18:

A couple of interesting points relating to this legislation, pointed out to me by a good friend ...

1) A complete history of every internet single user's activity across HTTP, NNTP, SMTP and FTP? That's an awful lot of data. How will it be collected? Stored? Indexed? Served up when requested?

And who is going to pay for this? The ISPs? I imagine that they'll be less than keen.

2) I have another friend who runs a record label. Presumably, under this legislation, all he has to do is suggest that someone has been distributing his content via e-mail and he can sequester their e-mail records, with no requirement to actually prove his case? Someone like -- hmmm -- Peter Mandelson? David Cameron?

Cheers

Jim

19:

@14: Thanks Charlie. One question, then, is who in the Labor Party will benefit if this law is withdrawn or massively rewritten to favor authors. They're potential allies.

20:

heteromeles: the answer to that question is non-obvious. (New Labour don't give a shit about small businesses, what they're interested in is Rupert Murdoch and his ilk. That, and beating us into submission so that they can build heaven on earth. They're like a ghastly authoritarian parody of liberalism.)

21:

Charlie, I'm a politically active American (and I've lived in Sweden) but sadly ignorant of British politics. Are the Liberal Democrats any better on support for the little guy? Is there a Brit equivalent of Pirat Partiet?

22:

duckintheface: "yes" is the answer to both your questions, and -- interestingly -- the candidate most likely to unseat my local Labour MP is the lib-dem.

23:

The tragedy of New Labour continues apace, they are destroying all they set out to create. Cool Britannia was one of the their first efforts and in the twilight of their days they are trampling over people they once celebrated.

Labour are becoming as repugnant as the Conservatives once were.

24:

You are fracked!
That will go through no matter what, not enough time.

How much i would like to read a rant from you about how fucked up our political systems are atm. (the big picture)

There i was thinking the revolution would be about revolt against the abuse of our human rights in the upcomming surveillance/corporate society...
How wrong i was, i might have to consider that the leaders of the revolution will be the creators of "interlectual property" as they have the ears of the people.

Better hurry that Halting State sequel, sell it yourself and i'll pay about one to two weeks of food for my copy.

25:

So... what is Big Media actually offering here that makes the political powers bend over so... um, flexibly? In the US it would be money (or, to be precise, more money)-- but British politics, according to the one-sentence explanations I've heard, doesn't work that way... right?

26:

@25: amounts of actual money involved in British politics are almost ludicrously small, mainly because, with TV ads regulated, there is no particularly effective way of converting extra money into votes.

Consequently, power is in the hands of journalists and newspaper proprietors: the annual losses of most media organisations is about an order of magnitude higher than party communication budgets. Putting 2 printed pages through letter boxes twice a year is nothing compared to 50+ daily.

Best dramatic representation of the is the poltical comedy _The Thick of It_ (filmed as _In The Loop_), where the journalist character Malcom Tucker played pretty the same formal role in the comedy as the absolute monarch in Blackadder 2 and 3, or Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister. He's the one with the power, the other characters are merely petitioners.

Off topic, but I've heard you are starting to see this is the states too, where Fox News owns the Republican party rather than vice versa.

27:

Charlie, I'm curious about your decision to confront your MP directly. I'm all in favor of direct action and I wish you luck, but where are groups like the Writers' Guild of Great Britain on this issue? Would an established organization like that not have more influence on a bill like this than you and a handful of your friends?

In my experience, professional associations are no more likely than governments to do the right thing without a lot of prodding, but you'd think this is one issue where a writers' association would get it right.

28:

You know, I always thought that politicians are corrupt and wholly owned by one wealthy interest or the other. Considering where I live I have seen a country torn down and rebuilt and that kind of experience instills a measure of cynicism about government in general. "Evil government conspiracy" is the default mode of operation for any government I have personally seen. I'm beyond jaded at this point.

However, despite all this, I am in continual amazement at how hideously bad governments are at being evil conspiracies. It's like there's no central organizing principle. Just a miasma of low-grade malevolence.

I don't think anyone thought this law trough. Anyone at all. I don't even think that the huge media conglomerates that authored the bill gave any thought, at any level of leadership, as to just what it would entail. It's just mind-boggling.

I am at a loss as to how they imagine they'd implement this in real life. Aside from leading a witch hunt (and causing not a few ISP's to go out of business) they only other option I can see is a banana republic style selective application of the law. Don't actually apply the law, just keep it around as a big, big club to bring down on people you don't like. Both of these scenarios really strain credulity -- neither seems like something the UK would do.

29:
6. NEVER, EVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER when talking to a politician or bureaucrat. When was the last time that you bothered to listen to someone insulting you? You couldn't be arsed to listen to them, right? Why should an MP wanna listen to you ranting, then? (yes, the repetition is deliberate).

This is flat-out wrong. Usian politicians respond quite handily to threats, in fact, it's about the only thing they do respond to, once you get past out and out corruption.

The important thing is to make the threat credible. Impotent raging will have politicos here going out of their way to exercise what authority they have to punish you. Raging of the sort that makes them realize that if you don't do as they say they will be gone in the next election cycle, well, they'll be down on their knees and kissing your ring in nothing flat. Iow, when they're not bullies, they're abject and unprincipled cowards. Go figure(I don't even hold it against them, particularly, given our current system.)

30:

Every time I get close to moving "back home" the local politicians do something to make me stop and think twice. I'm starting to wonder if the world is trying to tell me something here... The last time I was back in Edinburgh I hardly recognised the place but it still mostly felt like home. Now I'm starting to wonder if there'll be anything left for me to return to. Maybe I'll wait for independence and hope the prevailing government has more sense then Labour. It can't be that hard can it?

31:

Kevin @17, "Sounds like the UK needs a Politician Licensing Board, made up of randomly selected citizens. One of its tasks should be to meticulously ensure that all candidates for office are in personal compliance with all laws and regulations in their private lives."

That is EXACTLY what the press seek to do.

And, MattF @25, that is EXACTLY why the government need to keep them sweet before an election.

32:

@30: You just keep doing it your way SoV. I'm speaking from experience, not theory.

33:
This unexpected impact relates to any 'organisation' which licences any copyright material created by more than one different individual - or acts as agent for any such owners.

Oh look, if that interpretation is correct, they just swept up every open source project that doesn't require assignment of copyright from the individual contributers.

Fun.

34:

Sorry to repeat myself, but.

THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED, HERE, ONCE BEFORE.

Look up the licensing bill so-called reforms of a few years ago (in England).
That was SUPPOSED to improve public availability of artistic performances.
Actually it killed them and benefitted Murdoch.

This is a replay on a grander, more evil, corrupt and altogether more sinister scale.

Murdoch and all the others are behaving as the US Oil companies did and still do.

For more information on the previous licensing fiasco, try HERE or try Googling "Two in a Bar Rule".
There you will find out more than you really wanted to know about how bad it can get.

In the meantime, they want to control ALL of the West's media output - and the politicians are HELPING them!

35:

So, is there detailed analysis of this bill anywhere -- something more authoritative than a brief mention in a trade paper? I went as far as to get the Digital Economy* Bill text, but it appeared to be a list of amendments to other bills and between the fact that it was raw diffs and the fact that I'm not a lawyer, I lost track of the whole thing. Which, I suspect, may be the idea. :-/

Anyway, the point is that the only analysis I've seen has been about the "three strikes" component. Which is, yes, terrible -- but noone seems to be addressing the "giving Mandelson power to make law" and "forcing small game development studios(2) to register even casual games with the BBFC" aspects, or this latest licensing nonsense, in detailed and convincing enough form that I'd feel comfortable sitting down with my MP and going through it with her. As another person who makes their living from creating and selling digital media, I want to make it clear I Do Not Want.


(1) It's very economical with the digital... if it passes, we won't use any digital at all!

(2) Such as mine

36:

Charlie @14, there's more to this one than just the whips and party line. With Labour likely to lose the next election and their seats at risk, backbenchers are more willing to buck the whip, since de-selection at this point basically means handing the seat over to another party (LD here), which Labour can't afford, so the whip's authority is more limited than usual. Right now, if a Labour MP tells their whip "I'll lose my seat anyway if I follow you on this one", they'll probably get away with it. You just need to make sure the stakes are that high, and that they understand you are closely watching what they, personally, do about it.

Even if they are not willing to go against the whip on the whole bill, there will doubtless be a large number of amendments made, some of which they can safely vote for. While killing the entire bill is going to be difficult, we can hopefully throw out most of the bad stuff.

Public apathy in Westminster politics is high. Most MPs will never hear anything from their constituents about most of the bills put in front of them. When people start showing up in quantity to complain about it, with an election coming up, they do pay attention.

37:
@30: You just keep doing it your way SoV. I'm speaking from experience, not theory.

Posted by heteromeles

Chuckle. Right . . . and of course, per your imputation, I'm just speaking from theory[1]. Didn't you just criticize another poster for that trick? You seem to have a problem with posters who disagree with you. I suggest you cool it, per your own advice.

[1]Sarcasm, of course. I've been "politically active" for several decades now. My experiences are far, far from unique in this regard.

38:
Right now, if a Labour MP tells their whip "I'll lose my seat anyway if I follow you on this one", they'll probably get away with it. You just need to make sure the stakes are that high, and that they understand you are closely watching what they, personally, do about it.

Very true, unfortunately. I can talk to my city councilmen with some expectation of straight talk and useful action. Go much higher up the food chain than that and the usual politician's number one concern is for his "job". That tends to trump most everything, even (especially) basic principle.

39:

If you plan to campaign in the election on this, it may be useful to register as a Third Party for elections purposes.

Without the registration, you can spend up to a maximum of £5,000 in Scotland and a further £10,000 in England (per election).

With the registration, the limits are £793,500 in England and £108,000 in Scotland.

If someone is prepared to do the work (I can't) then dropping a large hint that you've already got a few grand in a bank account to put out leaflets on the DE Bill and you're collecting a lot more would be a useful threat.

http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/guidance/those-we-regulate/non-party-campaigners relates.

As for the discussion about losing your temper: screaming in the face of a politician doesn't work very well; meaningful threats to their position do work - but that's not about shouting insults at them; doing it calmly is usually more effective.

40:

BTW it may be worth considering that Mandelson is widely hated in the Labour party. Therefore you may find a sitting Labour MP quite happy to quietly help turn a knife in his heart, providing you put it there first.

If you can practically suggest it might get him more support locally, such that it might help him keep his seat, so much the better.

Oh, and normal activism - not likely to make a difference; its been neutered. Aim to do something NOT usual.

41:

Richard@39: If you look back, heteromeles is putting meaningful threats of the job loss sort in the naughty category. His interactions with political types seems to be at a rather local level. And while I can get some sort of reasonable action out of my city council, school board, etc., they're not the ones deciding the fate of a telecommunications bill. That's several steps up in the hierarchy. Sad to say, there seems to be a lot of primate behavioral strategies on display in that rarefied atmosphere; there are any of a number of political types who have made pounding the table a successful and oft-used tactic in getting their way.

42:

ORG have a new article up with a lawyer's analysis of the implications of the bill as currently written:

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ourwork/reports/deb-first-look

(Francis has been a regular on the ORG discussion lists for a while, so is not unbiased. Article remains informative nonetheless.)

Cheers,
David

43:

@41: actually, if you do look back, the specific bullet point you objected talked about 'losing your temper' and 'ranting', and didn't contain the word 'threat' or any synonym.

So pretty sure either he is right and you are wrong, or you are both right, and not actually disagreeing about anything substantive.

44:

duckintheface @ #10:

> I'm not a fan of copyright -- I just find myself unable to ignore it because it's the vehicle that [currently] brings in the pay cheques. If you want to preach at me that copyright, as it currently exists, is broken by design, don't bother -- I long since got the message. Just remember to offer an alternative mechanism by which creative types like me can earn a living, otherwise I will mock you.

I have an idea... why not let copyright be 30 years, no extensions. This is more than enough time for it to give you profit, but not so long that film or tape will rot before someone can make copies of it.

Oh, and the death penalty for anyone caught lobbying for extensions to copyright duration.

45:

Charlie: NB: I'm not a fan of copyright -- I just find myself unable to ignore it because it's the vehicle that [currently] brings in the pay cheques. If you want to preach at me that copyright, as it currently exists, is broken by design, don't bother -- I long since got the message. Just remember to offer an alternative mechanism by which creative types like me can earn a living, otherwise I will mock you.

I haven't thought it through in any detail, and I'm no lawyer (either in the US or the UK), but thought something reminiscent of what the US had a while back--14 year period, renewable once to a maximum of 28 years--would work well. Most works die before even the first period hits (how many works from 1995 are still in print?) and an even greater proportion before 28 (how many from 1979?) Beyond that, they've basically embedded themselves in culture if they're still being produced, so I don't see any problem with setting them free, so to speak. I haven't considered whether the restrictions on reproduction etc. associated with copyright should be different.

46:

John: there are numerous problems with fixed-term copyrights.

For one thing, you need to decide when the clock starts ticking -- when I start writing the story? When it's published? If published, then where? When I register it with a copyright office -- okay, whose copyright office? (Hint: we live in a multipolar world.) What about works that are republished in translation in other countries? What about "director's cut" versions where I go back and add substantial new material, 29 years and 11 months after the clock start time?

Some authors I know hate the idea of fixed-term copyrights; they tend to be over 60, and point out that stuff they wrote in their 20s and 30s is their pension plan. I'm not sure I agree with them, but do you really want to cut them off at their knees for making plans 30 years ago that failed to anticipate a future change in the law?

And that's before we look at how to implement this system. Remember copyright laws worldwide are structured to comply with the requirements of international treaty laws. Fixing anything enshrined in treaty law is murderously hard -- you've got to get 190-odd governments to agree to something via their proxies -- and it's a process prone to big media lobbyists inserting themselves into the loop (because they're the only lobbying groups with the budget to follow the diplomats around the planet).

(As for the death penalty crack, you are aware that capital punishment is flat-out illegal within the EU, and most of the rest of the civilized world, yes? Good luck with that one ...)

My vague gut feeling is that we can't fix copyright. What we might be able to do is to implement a compulsory licensing scheme (something like Public Lending Right here in the UK, but it'd need to be international and multilateral in scope) funded via a tax on all bandwidth-carrying devices connected to the public internet. It'd work like the British TV license scheme: pay your tax, and you're completely indemnified against copyright violation for anything and everything you download for your personal use. Then police the hell out of it (at the consumption end) to nail free riders, and patrol the claims process to ensure the money goes to the original creators and not to rent-seeking corporate fat cats. Oh, and do anonymous sampling of downloads/uploads to figure out where to send the money.

Such a scheme would coexist with the existing -- broken -- copyright regime, but cut the public off from the risk of being sued by the MPAA or similar parasites. (Paid your tax? You're immune to their lawsuits. Think of it as insurance.) It'd also have interesting long-term effects on the creative producers. Alas, the moment you say "bandwidth tax" most folks are going to stop listening. That's socialism, darn it!

For a flippant alternative: let Google spend a billion bucks a year paying the most popular authors and artists a salary in return for doing their shit and releasing it under a Creative Commons license. Conspicuous sponsorship of the public arts, in other words. Go on, you know Larry and Sergei are waiting for your phone call ...

47:

@canis There is a (partial) analysis of the bill here: http://www.imperialviolet.org/2009/11/23/digital-econ-bill.html

48:

I´ve read a factoid -- and I don´t know if it´s actually true -- but supposedly 2/3rds of the music produced during the 20th Century -- due to questionable copyright ownership -- is practically impossible to re-release. Composers die without assigning the rights, small music publishing houses and record companies fade away, etc etc. And no one knows who is the legal owner of the copyright. I´m sure there´s many gems in that vast amount of music that will never see the light of day again. To me, this is a tragedy.

The Statute of Anne, and the then US Constitution, clearly saw copyright as a way of promoting the dissemination of of knowledge (and keeping it in circulation). Of course, current copyright law has corrupted these aims. But may I make a modest proposal...

Initial copyright period only good for 10 years, renewable for an indefinite number of 10 year periods, but only if the the copyright owner (or the licensee of the copyright) re-release that work as a limited run (some number pre-set by law) in some physical media. The release number would be large enough to force the copyright holder to spend some money -- and make a decision -- can I still make a profit off this copyright? If you´re a musician, and you owned the copyright to your music, well, you´d have have to print up say 10,000 CDs. If you´re an author, your publisher would have to print up 10K of your books to keep your copyright current. Or you´d get your copyright back and have a chance to to meet those requirments on your own.

Yes, I understand that puts a burden on the owner/licensee/producer of the copyright. But if the copyright is worth something, it´s worth keeping the intellectual property in circulation. Once it goes out of circulation, the copyright expires after 10 years. Yes, yes, I hear everyone whining about digital media! Well, OK, after 10 years you have to be able to prove you sold X number of copies in a digital format on that 10th year, or you lose your copyright. Releasing something digitally to meet a certain sales requirement puts a burden on the copyright holder again. I can see all sorts of 10-cent Kindle promotions ;-).

Thus Disney can keep Steamboat Willie copyrighted for eternity -- but they have to release a commemorative DVD every 10 years. Life´s a bitch.

Keeps stuff in circulation. If it´s not worth keeping in circulation, well, bye-bye copyright. And someone else can then try their luck at bootlegging it.

49:

There are huge problems with fixed-term copyright systems.

Do you know how many copyrights I own?

If I had to register each item, there'd be a mere 438 for this blog, in its current Movable Type incarnation -- more like a thousand if you go back to 2000 and the Blosxom system I used for some years. There'd be forty or fifty published short stories, eighteen or nineteen books, and several hundred magazine articles.

These are all copyrightable items. The magazine articles, short stories, and books are all direct revenue-earning ones; the blog entries might be if I get my shit together and build the non-fiction book I've been thinking about.

A jobbing journalist originates several new copyrightable units of publication every week. Disney ... half a dozen a year from the movie studio, maybe a hundred times that from the TV channel (but they can afford an entire department to handle the registrations).

beowulf888: what does "publishing" mean in the context of your 10-year-republish-it-or-lose-it scheme? Does the existence of a book on a back list at some print-on-demand shop constitute publication? Or the presence of a blog entry in an online archive?

50:

Remember copyright laws worldwide are structured to comply with the requirements of international treaty laws. Fixing anything enshrined in treaty law is murderously hard -- you've got to get 190-odd governments to agree to something via their proxies -- and it's a process prone to big media lobbyists inserting themselves into the loop (because they're the only lobbying groups with the budget to follow the diplomats around the planet).

You mean like ACTA? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Counterfeiting_Trade_Agreement)

51:

Charlie@45: all of the books I own have "copyright $AUTHOR $DATE" in the front. What's that if not the beginning of a copyright term?

52:

Before you go to see your MP, it would be worth seeing if you can interest an Evening News hack. That way, they can be ready to print an article based on what you tell them immediately after the meeting.

53:
@41: actually, if you do look back, the specific bullet point you objected talked about 'losing your temper' and 'ranting', and didn't contain the word 'threat' or any synonym.

So pretty sure either he is right and you are wrong, or you are both right, and not actually disagreeing about anything substantive.

Posted by soru

Sigh. Perhaps I should have quoted more. Or perhaps you you should have read more, like here:

This is flat-out wrong. Usian politicians respond quite handily to threats, in fact, it's about the only thing they do respond to, once you get past out and out corruption.

And to which the reply was:

You just keep doing it your way SoV. I'm speaking from experience, not theory.

I think it's pretty clear what heteromeles is objecting to, and also that it's pretty clear that your interpretation is wrong. I repeat: past a certain level, it seems that the canonical politician seems to respond best to threats and bribery. I don't do bribery, and I imagine most people don't. But I can do threats quite handily[1]. The trick is to make the threat credible. Sadly, that often seems to involve primate-style displays of aggression. And no, that's not theory either, as I can personally attest to. Unfortunately.

[1]I don't have a moral objection to threats in general, and I suspect most people don't either. However, most people (I hope) do have moral objections to bribery.

54:

The above argument continues a thread where the posters are debating about the habits of other posters, which sometimes must happen in a debate. Interactive blogs such as these that are civil without being repressive are the best. Of course, without Charlie it's not nearly as fun!

55:

Some stray thoughts on the subject of downloaded product and copy rights.

1. The Baen Free Library (http://www.baen.com/library/) and Anime TV shows (when do they ever screen on main steam TV) seem to be doing well increasing their sales off people looking at stuff for free through downloads and if they like it going out and buying it on dead tree (Baen) or buying Anime DVD's from your local shops.

2. The main starter for all the rabid groups for protecting copy rights was the music industry which saw people downloading their product for free, then mostly not going out and buying it afterwards. Assuming that people weren't buying their product (Albums) because they could get it for free they went nuts when instead most people weren't buying the product because apart from the one hit single the rest of the Album sounded totally different and sucked.

3. Correct me if I'm wrong but I seem to remember a Spider Robinson short story arguing against infinite copyright.

4. They also tried this sort of garbage in New Zealand at one point until the ISP's said we will go out of business trying to pay for all the costs of this.

5. Are speeches also under copyright? if so will the government itself get into trouble if the text of what they said for the day is hosted online (Oh look they do) and they don't have the permission of each speech writer or the person that the writer quoted from?

56:

Codes of Practice seem to be an addiction of British Governments. And they seem to be a way of bypassing Parliament and not always paying much attention to the "stakeholders" who have to implement them.

Besides, the stories about dodgy practices by agents (and maybe vanity presses fall into that trap too), involve outright fraud. A Code of Practice might help a court and jury to reach a decision, and might warn off the new writer or musician from the worst of the trade by defining what they should expect, but it's going to be written by the usual suspects.

In other words, it's not going to change anything. All it's likely to do is add costs for the small operations in this business.

57:

@54 item 3 Written speeches are copyright, however the copyright in Politicians cases is, I believe, assigned to 'crown copyright' which sidesteps that one. Also there is 'Crown Immunity' which means that the government cannot be sued for breaking copyright (or prosecuted for being the slum landlord of military properties for example).

Agreed the copyright system is broken, but given the current ease with which data can be stored, duplicated, and distributed I'm not sure what would take it's place.

Our hosts' 'download tax immunity' is one idea but the downside is that it appears to require the selfsame deep packet inspection that the ISP's are screaming about the cost of implementing for the digital economy bill and avoidance via routine PGP encryption is giving intelligence services worldwide a case of hives as their ability to eavesdrop goes away (possibly also SigInt as peer to peerand anonymising routers blow smoke into who contacts who)

58:

Chris L: What you're looking at is an indication that the book has been registered with a library of record (mandatory -- British Library in the UK, Library of Congress in the USA) and copyright registered (again: a historic hang-over from the bad old days, before the European style system was introduced, by which copyright applies to every creative work from the moment it was written).

It's not a "start term" in the sense that folks who have an interest in fixed-term copyrights would have it (else copies of "Accelerando" would say 1999, not 2005).

59:

I referred to a vote at our conference on the other DEB thread. We've now got a blog post out with details of what was said and the votes, here.

60:

I guess I am waiting for folks to wake up. Its clear that many western govs have been bought and paid for and now the corporate entities are demanding their pound of flesh.
Good luck on trying to get this smashed Charlie.

61:

Charlie @49 asks: "beowulf888: what does ´publishing´ mean in the context of your 10-year-republish-it-or-lose-it scheme? Does the existence of a book on a back list at some print-on-demand shop constitute publication? Or the presence of a blog entry in an online archive?"

Charlie: My point is that copyright as it was originally envisioned was supposed to bring benefits to the author as well as to society. You are given the license to reap the financial benefits of the copyright and society, in return, gets the benefit of your works being available.

Correct me if I´m wrong, but doesn´t copyright in the UK and the US requre a registration process? The same would be necessary on the renewal of your copyright, except the holder of the copyright would have to prove they had made a good faith effort to keep the work in circulation (upholding the benefit-to-society side of the bargain). The mechanics of which could be implemented in various ways -- but I offered the above as a suggestions. Certainly, I can see potential business opportunities for copyright extension publishing houses (modeled after LuLu).

What I don´t like seeing is orphaned works that can´t be released because their copyright provenance is unclear. Or big publishers sitting on works that are no longer profitable for mass release. Under my proposal, at some point, the copyright holder would have to make a decision whether it makes any economic sense to continue holding on to the copyright. If not, force the copyright to go into the public domain.

Yes, I know this probably messes up your plans for a extra special 50th anniversary re-release of Halting State...

62:

beowulf888: no, copyright as installed in legislation around the world under the Berne Convention does not require registration: it's inherent in the mere existence of a work. If you write it, it is copyright (c) you, whenever. No registration necessary.

Under registration systems, every separate piece of work you create requires separate registration.

Interestingly, about the only mitigating factor in the Digital Economy bill's favour is that it attempts to deal with the orphan rights problem.

How does your proposed scheme deal with aggregate works -- where various folks provided material which they individually own the copyright to? Such works range from short story anthologies to major TV history documentaries by way of movies ... who holds the copyright on them?

Here's the problem: what we all want is a system that promotes creativity in the arts and sciences by encouraging creators to publish their work -- implicitly, by providing a mechanism for them to claim financial rewards sufficient for them to live on while plying their trade -- in the interests of maximizing the range of materials available to the public (ideally at as low a price as is possible).

But how are we to do this? We can't just tear up 200+ years of case law, precedent, and international trade treaties. But on the other hand, a lot of what we've developed in the past century is junk, counterproductive -- the rot arguably set in when copyright was implicitly extended to player piano rolls, or sheet music, or anything that wasn't text produced on a printing press, but we've gone so far down that road that any solution has to address a whole bunch of media that simply didn't exist back in the late 18th century when the modern concept of copyright was being formulated.

63:

"Last week I was angry."

Don't get mad, get even. Join the Pirate Party and help us get rid of this crap.

64:

Phil: if the UK ran on a pure-PR system, or a transferable vote system, I'd seriously consider the Pirate Party.

But the UK runs on first-past-the-post.

I live in a Labour marginal constituency where the only serious challenger is the Lib-Dem candidate, trailing by about 2000 votes (that's roughly 2% of the constituency). Voting for the PP in this constituency would reduce the chances of kicking the Labour incumbent out by splitting the opposition vote.

NB: the Lib-Dems are the only major party with even a token committment to reforming/replacing the FPTP electoral system. So if we're really lucky I might be able to safely vote PP at the next election but one. But this next one? Not bloody likely.

65:

To clarify: "Losing your temper" means getting emotional, not avoiding threats. In the US, dragging a lawyer into a meeting is an explicit threat.

Thing is, you want the meeting with a politician to be positive. When you talk, it's about...priorities. And consequences, generally of the positive sort. And communication.

Getting red and screaming will get you branded as either a) a nutcase or b) a dangerous nutcase, or c) an idiot. You'll probably only get your way with b) if you're dangerous due to the influence you wield, not because you're threatening violence. If you're threatening violence, well, there are consequences.

But in any event, losing your temper is a good way to lose. It's okay to vomit or use alcohol to clean your mouth later, though.

66:

Charlie @46:

I was just being a jackass with the death penalty crack.

But your solution isn't a solution either... the same people who are making it so much of a problem for people like you (actual content producers) and people like me (content consumers) love complexity. Any time complexity in laws or regulations arise, they *thrive*. You're fighting a fire by tossing gasoline on it. You hint at understanding this, but completely underestimate it.

I don't believe that humanity has finally solved the "oppressive police state" problem, even if EU sensibilities claim that they'll remain a social democratic paradise for the rest of time. So, in setting up your system, you're only creating yet another tool for whichever police state ends up being born next. In the 1970s in the Soviet Union, you could still pass around pamphlets and banned books. What happens in its 2035 equivalent?

As for those who planned on their works being their pension... tough shit. Bad luck happens. If the only way to fix a problem as serious as this one is that a few thousand authors here and there don't get the royalties, this is a regrettable but perfectly acceptable solution.

As for when the date of copyright starts, that part is easy. It starts the first time that the work becomes publically known. If you scribble down your blog posts here on a notebook and bury them in the backyard for 3 years before posting them to this website, the clock starts ticking the moment you post. For additional material (the director's cut), those scenes have copyright the date they are available, but the rest of the movie would retain the old date. No need to burden law here, make it an affirmative defense... if you're sued for infringement, you provide proof that it existed and was available 30 years and 1 day ago, and summary judgement absolves you.

Internationally? No clue. Changing treaties isn't easy, we shouldn't have signed those in the first place. That was all about greed anyway... it wasn't enough to be making gobs of money off of the rich middle classes in Europe and North America, they wanted assurances that third world police would punish someone who makes a bad fifty cent copy of a movie and sells it at the dirt crossroads corner in Outer Elbonia. But if your country (or mine) was to simply implement a 30 year limit, that only applied within that country, would this not be some sort of improvement? Someone has to be first.

67:

'So, in setting up your system, you're only creating yet another tool for whichever police state ends up being born next. '

And setting up the absence of such a system just gives that hypothetical state an opportunity and excuse to create a better one.

68:

Charlie @46

"My vague gut feeling is that we can't fix copyright. What we might be able to do is to implement a compulsory licensing scheme (something like Public Lending Right here in the UK, but it'd need to be international and multilateral in scope) funded via a tax on all bandwidth-carrying devices connected to the public internet. It'd work like the British TV license scheme: pay your tax, and you're completely indemnified against copyright violation for anything and everything you download for your personal use."

We got that in Spain.

No, wait, sorry, we got to pay the license ("canon") in Spain, by storage not bandwidth, and we got absolutely nothing in exchange of that, no, you are still a criminal if you "pirate", and BTW, the money got by the "canon" we pay is managed by the local RIAA like thing that decides who get how much money by looking at the charts, so more money for successful corporate pap pushed by all media, screw you independent artist.

I would love to see what you say, but I guess you and everybody else will get what we have if they go that route.

69:

Can anyone explain to me what's happening with this bill? I didn't realise till today, it was "introduced" to the Lords just after it was announced in the Queen Speech. It got its first reading in the Lords on the 19th Nov, and its second today. A third is due after the committee stage, when it goes to the Commons.

a) I thought things went Commons then Lords?

b) Isn't this very fast? Almost as if someone was looking to force it through and get his payoff before the election?

c) If it doesn't slow down at any point, its going to be law before people can organise against it, which is probably the aim, and is anti-democratic.

70:

#47 Etienne, thanks, I'll check that out.

Interesting news... Facebook, Google, Yahoo and eBay have attacked Clause 17 (the one about giving Mandelson the power to make arbitrary copyright law: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8390623.stm

71:
Getting red and screaming will get you branded as either a) a nutcase or b) a dangerous nutcase, or c) an idiot. You'll probably only get your way with b) if you're dangerous due to the influence you wield, not because you're threatening violence. If you're threatening violence, well, there are consequences.

But in any event, losing your temper is a good way to lose. It's okay to vomit or use alcohol to clean your mouth later, though.

Sigh. This is from your vast fund of experience, right? just like your:

5. Remember, the reason we have politicians is to handle the crap we don't want to deal with ourselves. As a result, the get to deal with a lot of crap, most of which they don't particularly care about. If you help them do their job better with minimal effort on their part, they'll appreciate it, just as we all do.

No. Not really. Speaking from what appears to be a vastly larger amount of experience. In fact - as we are seeing with the health care "reform" tailspin into the ground - it matters little if you make good on your threat if the people you are trying to convince don't believe you'll follow through on it. Following through on the threat is absolutely imperative if the weasels go ahead and vote the wrong way, of course, but even after this has been accomplished, you're still saddled with a very, very bad bill. It's much better to make the political type believe that you'll do to him exactly what you've been promising, and so avoid having to deal with the consequences of the actions of someone who thought you were bluffing.

I'm sorry that you haven't had these experiences yet, but trust me, they are far, far more common than you apparently think. I wish this wasn't the case of course, but it is what it is. Instead of being wise and benevolent Solons minding our collective fate, politicians are all too often more accurately characterized as the alpha chimps of the Pumphouse Gang.

72:

This article is a look at how the music business--big media in particular--handles royalties in the music business. The writer used to be part of a band, and now works in the digital media business as the geek who tracks royalty payments made to the big media companies who own the music.

Basic point: he knows what information gets provided on just what music gets streamed and downloaded. And, as a former musician who hasn't yet earned out (they call it "recouped" in that business), he knows what gets done with it. Nothing.

I doubt there's anything in this bill that would deal with that problem.

73:

Jesus @68: PLR actually works, albeit on a very much smaller scale than what I'm speculating about. You are, of course, correct about how badly the Spanish (and Canadian) storage tax has worked out. No such levy is going to do anything good for creators and the general public unless it's clear from the outset that it's to provide a general legal indemnity for copyright infringement to those people who sign up for it, and strong measures are taken to freeze out the MPAA, RIAA and their sock-puppets. Which in turn assumes the political will exists to stick a middle finger/two fingers/thumb/other offensive digit up at the cartels' backers, who are mostly extremely rich media organizations who also own broadcast news media (making such an action political suicide).

So it ain't going to happen unless/until further corrosion of the major media organizations' markets occurs, weakening them -- see, for example, the ongoing collapse of the newspaper industry in the USA.

I have, as it happened, found one positive aspect to the Digital Economy Bill; it's the attempt to deal with the Orphan Works problem. (Where no heir to the rights can be found -- the creator being dead or a wound-up company -- so nobody can give permission for it to be reprinted.) But it's a very thin solace for an otherwise very bad law ...

74:

Charlie @73: Oh, yes, I mean, I think a solution along the lines you mention IS the proper way to frame the problem. Make a "compulsory license" over say, bandwidth, when you copyright a work you give the files to the goverment/agency/whatever, organize things so you track access to the works on public P2P networks/streaming services, then goverment gives authors % of the license back according to how many times did your song/book/video was downloaded, not 100% real use tracking, but hey, if major officialy sanctioned ways to get the files exist many people will use those services and you can collect a sample of how "hot" is your work and how much of the license/tax/fee whatever you should get... or something, may need a lot of work, but that - we all pay the money for unlimited access and then the benefits go to the actual authors according to actual use.

I have extremely low hopes about it getting implemented though, as it would be anathema to the labels, distributors, publishers, etc. who have the ears, and sometimes it looks like the balls, of our politicians everywhere.

75:

I've had a long rant brewing for a while now, and charlies remark on earning a living is why I bring it up here.

what it comes down to is that the music industry, through no little marketing over the last hundred or so years, has created a (relatively) big economical niche for something that just happened to be second easiest to copy (using digital technology and the internet) after computer programs; and more in demand.

That's the first factor: digitalisation.

Movies had a short grace period because of hard disk space and bandwidth cost.
Books had a grace period because they weren't sufficiently digitalized. In the last year or so I've seen book collections online go from hundreds of scanned and ocr'd paperbacks to hundreds of thousands of new digital texts. this is aside from the gutenberg project of course)

At this point it's fair to say any intellectual property will be up for grabs as soon as it can be digitalized.

I'm thinking reverse engineered designer sunglasses based on 3d scans here.

The second factor is reproduction.

At one point I fed downloaded mixtapes from my mac into a casette deck for use in a walkman. Now of course music stays digital till it hits the dac chip in your mp3 player.
Movies need a display to be viewed, as do books, although bookviewing requires other display types than movies. But we've had those displays for longer than we've had broadband.
At one point I printed out and hand-bound a copy of Charlies Accelerando, so I guess there's that option, too. And there's other means to get a physical copy of stuff.

We're at the brink of digitalising and reproducing many more physical objects.

3d scanners for designer sunglasses are not commonly available, and 3d printers aren't up to the task of reproducing them, neither- although a more complete fab should be.
It's not going to be long before those sunglasses become easily copy-able by private individuals. As will be the case for medication, furniture,... there's a whole tech-tree that will be subverted step by step.

So say a handful of years from now most industries will see their products reproducable by individuals.

What are the options?

Would you rather use the openly available plans to build a Rietveld chair? It'll set you back less than 100 euros.
Or would you prefer to buy one from Cassina, who owns the rights, for 1500 euros? (I know what my SO would go for, curse those magazines)
An original will set you back 264000 euros, if there's one for sale..

We're not far from a big leap in our society. We can stick with option 2, with industries bullying politicians not just with money, but with the jobs they offer.
Or we can all move to option 1, where our economy suffers the sort of collapse the music business is going through, forced by opportunistic and selfish 'pirates'.

Or, in option 3, we can all own originals, or at least smaller batch copies, in a sort of Macintosh (Charles Rennie, not Steve Jobs) like reversal of industrialisation.

So the current act is def. option one. No politician wants even more musicians on the dole, not to mention game and movie studios closing down, television channels and newspapers cutting back or going belly-up.

And yet massive unemployment might be the only way out. Well-fed, tv-addicted middle classers have no interest in change. It's starving people that behead kings, form unions, and force lawmakers to curb capitalism.
It won't just be musicians, there's whole tribes of people out there whose economical value is running out.

So I don't focus on what these laws aim to accomplish (little being the answer, sneakernets are the simplest solution for threatened pirates. Perhaps with autorun progs that can scan a hard-drive, compare media, and swap files automatically?)

The focus should be on what we're going to do to get from here, with half our economy's ass hanging out over the abyss, to a cornucopia where that economy is automated and ubiquitous. Not to mention on how a post-economical society handles scarcity, of raw materials, space, energy(dissipation) etc.

And then I see that those unemployed masses are going to have a hard time getting aware that they're there, let alone organize a revolution. That's what is going on with the war on terror, net neutrality and the fight for copyright.

The solution is going to have to be convincing, cheap and ubiquitous. Something that will allow more people to drop out of economical society than unemployment benefits can handle.

Well, some things.


76:

Somewhat OT, but I'm an enthusiastic user of rapid-prototyping technology, so:

L2GX@#75: "3d scanners for designer sunglasses are not commonly available, and 3d printers aren't up to the task of reproducing them, neither- although a more complete fab should be."

Eh, about half right.
3D scanner with .005" resolution for just under $3K USD available here: https://www.nextengine.com/indexSecure.htm

Of course, you'll need a quite-good graphics card/computer to play around with the software, so that'll add to the price.

3D printers that have ~.010" resolution in plastic start at about ~$5K USD from here: http://www.desktopfactory.com/our_product/ (projected - not yet available) or ABS plastic for ~$14K USD here: http://www.dimensionprinting.com/3d-printers/3d-printing-uprint.aspx At work we have an ABS printer machine from that same company, a size or two larger than that one, that works excellent!

Won't do lenses, nor mixed colors (though the ABS is available in lots of single colors) but nearly there. Car/motorcycle parts are doable - ABS is very common for decorative/non load bearing car/motorcycle parts and is paintable. I don't know what a lens-grinding machine costs, but as they have them at those 1-hour glasses places here in the US, they're likely available.

So yeah, still need to get to the nano level of fabbing, but the demands of industry are pushing in that direction. Give it 5 years or less at the current (accelerating!) development pace, and you should be able to pick up a complete system with scanner, computer and printer for under $10K USD (assuming the dollar doesn't crash...).

Of course, with 3D objects, you are in the realm of patent and/or trademark law, rather than copyright law. I don't know how trade secret would come in... Funny thing, patent law seems "better" for this discussion - patents only last ~14 years in the US system, last time I checked. I can see the scan files as copyrighted, though, so not out of the woods yet - it's easier to pass around the scan files than the physical object. Then again, for smallish objects, if you can ship a hard-drive around for sneaker-net duplication you can ship the expired-patent object around for scanning... Every new scan would be it's own potentially copyrighted file, but the passed-around object is in the clear. Copying the 3D object (AFAIK) is legal so long as the appearance and/or functional mechanism(s) is(are) not trademarked and/or patented.

As for a better system for copyright of easily copied works... I wish I had the background for it. Hope that nasty bill doesn't pass, or there's one or more high-profile cases against MP's and/or high corporate muckety-mucks and/or their family members that drive home the massive stupidity of the consequences it entails for those who run afoul of it (or merely appear to, or are accused of...)

Good luck!

77:
For a flippant alternative: let Google spend a billion bucks a year paying the most popular authors and artists a salary in return for doing their shit and releasing it under a Creative Commons license. Conspicuous sponsorship of the public arts, in other words.

Perhaps a more decentralized version: X readers pay Y dollars per year for Z books in a particular genre. If X is large enough, Y can be arbitrarily small (assuming zero printing cost) and still give the author a good income. Selling books one at a time and paying the author per copy doesn't look to have staying power, given the increasing ease of copying.

what we all want is a system that promotes creativity in the arts and sciences by encouraging creators to publish their work

"System" starts to sound like government and laws. If we look to coercive ways to procure the things we want, we perpetuate the arms race of regulation. The laws you rail against are merely people asking the "system" to "encourage" things they find desirable.

78:

Not sure how it works in the UK, but in Australia musicians doing live covers in pubs have to submit a list of stuff they've played, and there's some sort of fund that sends royalties to the copyright holders.

A friend of mine used submit the names of songwriters he liked, even if he hadn't actually played anything by them.

79:

@46 Charlie Stross: My vague gut feeling is that we can't fix copyright.

Politicians will no doubt be a trailing indicator on this, not a leading one. I think it's likely that the Pirate Party will get enough support Europe-wide that they have prevent or roll back the imposition of 3-strikes or anything like it. (Probably by making it electorally suicidal for any government do so such things). This won't destroy copyright, but it will make some business models unenforcable, and it'll create the norm that all content is available for free on the internet.

What we might be able to do is to implement a compulsory licensing scheme (something like Public Lending Right here in the UK, but it'd need to be international and multilateral in scope) funded via a tax on all bandwidth-carrying devices connected to the public internet.

I also favour something along those lines (see for example http://cabalamat.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/a-broadband-tax-for-the-uk/ )

The problems are as you say to make sure it does to creators and not parasitic vermin like the RIAA or MPAA, and to make it hard to game the system. That's why I suggest a compulsory tax, but multiple funds supported by the tax, and each taxpayer gets to decide which fund his tax goes to, on a monthly basis (taxpayers would be able to change the recipient using an online form). Fund A gives its money to corporate fatcats? Switch to B. Fund B is broken and allows people to game the system? Fund C spends too high a proportion on administation? Switch to D.

@64: if the UK ran on a pure-PR system, or a transferable vote system, I'd seriously consider the Pirate Party. But the UK runs on first-past-the-post.

True of Westminster. The Scottish and European parliaments use PR, however.

I live in a Labour marginal constituency where the only serious challenger is the Lib-Dem candidate, trailing by about 2000 votes (that's roughly 2% of the constituency). Voting for the PP in this constituency would reduce the chances of kicking the Labour incumbent out by splitting the opposition vote.

In a marginal this might well be the best option, although I think I would sound out the Lib Dem challenger on these issues and make sure he's sound on them before voting for him.

80:

Hi, Charlie
could you express what do you think about recent developments in digital books words: Google vs Alliance, who has the right of distribution in the digital world?

81:

@ Jesus Couto:

Not exactly true we got nothing in return: we got the continuation of the right to private copying without profit motive (copia privada).

Let's put it thus: how many Spaniards have been screwed by copyright infringement in the courts? Aside from people who were making money from ed2k links pages and such, afaik none. It's not perfect, but I'm fine with paying the canon for that peace of mind, and hell, who uses CDs these days anyway.

82:

cajunfj40 @76

I did my LLM dissertation on the very topic of the IP implications of cheap rapid prototyping, and a joint paper with a leading light in the RP field is currently in preparation for open-access publication early next year.

In summary, UK law* is such that you do not infringe patented or trade mark protected items by making them for personal use, whilst design protection not only has such exemption but does not cover aspects of a design essential for an objects function, or which let it fit around or attach to other objects. (The pretty surface art on my iPhone case is the only protectable aspect of it.) Furthermore, reverse-engineering the design of a product does not infringe the copyright of the original blueprints - this was a provision specifically added to stop car companies using such an argument to block the manufacture of third-party spares.

(*Much of the relevant law covers both England and Scotland, whilst even where it doesn't Scottish courts have broadly followed English ones in assessing IP matters.)

83:

David @81

Ah, but there is a really big devil hiding in the details: SGAE (the authors lobby) collects the money and distributes it. So yeah, we get our right to download freely - for the time being, the battle is only starting - but independent creators get doubly and royally screwed.

The 'canon' (I think the proper English equivalent term would probably be license or perhaps toll) could be a good solution, but for it to work properly the system needs a transparent and at least relatively objective way to decide who receives money and how much of it.

84:

It sounds like we're looking at something positively medieval, or perhaps renaissance. Really. I suspect that professional artists (including musicians, writers, and probably inventors) will be bankrolled by those who can afford to pay them a living wage, and these rich folk will be commissioning the works.

One interesting question is how the rich will use these privileges to show off their status. Fashions mutating daily? Showing off their generosity by leaking plans to make the life of the technopeasantry less of a drudge?

As for the rest of us, we're going to be controlled by those who feed and maintain the 3-d scanners and 3-d printers. This will be the printer business model scaled up to cover a society.

One thing that's missing from current 3-d printers (AFAIK) is any way to recycle their products, and I'm *hoping* (hint, hint) that recyclability will be a fundamental feature built into these things in the future. I would be happy if there was a shredder that I could feed stuff back into that would recycle the feedstock for 3-d printers, but I suspect that the waste management companies will want a piece of that sector.

Finally, to top off this dystopia, it will always be cheaper to employ people to create things where it's simply too expensive to create a machine to do it. One good place for this is one-off documents where large copy numbers are free anyway: bureaucratic reports and similar, in other words. Law, too. Oh goody.


85:

heteromeles @ #84: "One thing that's missing from current 3-d printers (AFAIK) is any way to recycle their products, and I'm *hoping* (hint, hint) that recyclability will be a fundamental feature built into these things in the future."

It's theoretically possible for some of the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) machines, though AFAIK no commercial entities do so. My bet is they'd probably refuse to honor the warranty if you used unauthorized goop in the machines, too...

The FDM machine we have at work (.007" resolution max, BTW, I got that wrong in my comment #76) uses big cassettes of extruded round ABS plastic of a certain diameter. As ABS is a thermoplastic, it can be reground, remelted, and re-extruded to make more feedstock for the machine. You'd have to play with it to see how much regrind percentage the machine will tolerate, and/or how many times you can regrind the same stock before it quits extruding right and/or gets too much burnt bits/foreign material in it.

SLS machines use powdered metal, so you could again theoretically re-powder the reject parts. Good luck getting the particle size correct, though.

There's at least one technology commercially available that has a home-grown "refill" mix available: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/04/09/homemade-3d-printer.html

Appropriately for that last link, I think Cory Doctorow has a short story or few that involve 3D printers kept repaired and fed by the users, as the companies that made them are either gone, bankrupt, not-helpful and/or very expensive.

Then, of course, there's all the DIY 3D printer stuff going on all over the web. If you use, say, sugar (search "Candyfab"), you can probably fairly easily recycle the used stuff, even if you have to re-dissolve, filter, re-crystallize and then regrind it to get the right particle size. Or just use cheap feedstock.

All of the SL (StereoLithography) machines I know of - the more common type of rapid prototype machine available today - use a UV laser to cure a liquid polymer. This stuff can't be re-melted, so no easy recycle.

Oh, and Simon Bradshaw @ #82: That's interesting, thanks! I've no idea what the true status is here in the US, other than general "look and feel" lawsuit stuff I hear about. IANAL, etc.

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