Broadband ban: wrong, impossible, boneheaded

This is expanded from a post to a mailing list in response to the recently announced government U-turn on broadband policy.  After having dinner with a movie studio boss (or maybe also listening to Andrew Lloyd-Webber standing up for his cash-strapped friends) Peter Mandelson is now stating that  "repeat offenders" who share films and music through their broadband internet connections will have their connections cut off.

I don’t understand why the music & film industry gets to suggest an extrajudicial process to fight their battles, and why any politician would taking them seriously (unless they’ve just had a smashing lunch with a lobbyist).  Kangaroo justice is easy, here are some more ideas!

  • People who run out of restaurants without paying their bill should have to pay double at supermarkets for a month?
  • Accused shoplifters should be excluded from parking in the city centre on a weekend?
  • Marijuana growers have to run their house on a single 13A fuse?

You can make up all kinds of "short sharp shock" punishments that sound fair to a medieval baron, but they amount to the same thing: meddling with people’s private contractual arrangements without due legal process.

The broadband cut-off proposal is not only unfair, it’s technically impossible.  PC are not yet closed systems which can tell copyright files from free, despite a spirited but failed effort from Microsoft.  So if your computer can’t tell which files are copyrighted, mine can’t either, nor can those at a media company.  To find out whether a file is copyright, you need to download it, then listen to or watch it.  But instead the evidence that is routinely presented to us is in the form of an infringement notice from a subcontractor of a movie/music firm, usually demanding that we immediately cease service to a particular customer, but threatening no specific action.  We used to pass them on as a bit of curio, now they come so frequently that we bin them.

Their implication is that of course you understand this is copyright material, of course we are trustworthy to impart this to you, and therefore of course you will accede to our demands.  Well, no, no and therefore – no.  Keeping up with movie releases is not my strong point, so a file called "District 9" could be someone’s thesis on town planning, or a user mod for a video game, or just about anything other than 90 minutes of copyrighted hokey sci-fi.  No I won’t download it to check, it’s neither instant nor obvious.  And the movie and music industries have been suing both children and dead people’s estates in years of litigation, so should I take these notices on trust?  Doesn’t seem likely.

If ISPs had all agreed that these infringement notices were terribly fair, that’s one thing.  But they are universally lashing out at Mandelson’s proposal.  The government can no more force ISPs to co-operate in abusing their own customers than force Lord Lloyd-Webber to stage Pee! The Musical!, the chorus prancing through the stalls urinating on the audience (and I have sat through By Jeeves, so I wouldn’t rule that concept out as an improvement, L-W).

I simply don’t believe there is a problem – true artists will always create, talent can always make a living, and their public will always find a way of being cheap.  If the middle men can’t hack being in the middle without resorting to legislating their right to a business model, they need to make a new one.  I’m not interested in helping them out.