Megaupload takedown shows need for fresh debate

Summary:The copyright debate is in a downward spiral, and the only way out is for both sides to come clean about their views

...that this very loose collective is completely against the notion of copyright and in favour of letting anyone make money off the work of others as they see fit, although if it is, then let it argue its case.

Modernising copyright

What I do believe is that the movement is broadly in favour of modernising the concept of copyright and encouraging new, legitimate business models that flow with the evolution of distribution technology.

But this will almost certainly have to go hand-in-hand with enforcement of some kind. To call for reform of the carrot but not of the stick is intellectually lazy, dishonest and guaranteed to result in failure.

The reform movement needs to be the one reaching out to the lawmakers — in public, as too much of this debate has gone on behind closed doors — and not the one acting defensively all the time.

Now is the time for co-ordination. The rights-holder lobby is an international movement, and a very well-coordinated one at that. The other side needs to form its own broad-spectrum global alliance with some kind of unified mouthpiece, and that group needs to come up with honest, proactive, helpful responses to the problem that exists.

Agree on penalties

If people want to come up with a system that is genuinely fair, they need to agree on and actively promote penalties for those who abuse that system in unfair ways. If that doesn't happen, there is no way any politician will take the side seriously. At worst, those calling for positive reform without real enforcement will get lumped in with those who only want to profit at the expense of others.

To call for reform of the carrot but not of the stick is intellectually lazy, dishonest and guaranteed to result in failure.

None of this is to say that those calling for positive reform have had a fair chance to express themselves. The system is grossly tilted in favour of the rights-holders, and 'negotiations' over ACTA, SOPA, the UK Digital Economy Act have been deliberately lopsided. This situation needs to change before a counterargument can be heard, but that counterargument has to be readied for its airing. It already exists in fragmented form, but it needs to be honed, immediate and overwhelming.

SOPA is wounded, possibly mortally so. Without wishing to presuppose the outcome of the Megaupload case, the actions taken around the company's proprietors at least show that current laws can be used to knock out large-scale, profit-making infringement operations.

Now is the time to build an international forum for reform, to solidify a coherent approach to copyright infringement and enforcement, and to make that argument heard.

There are other cyberlockers, and there will always be ways to get around copyright-enforcement measures. There will be a 'son of SOPA' law at some point, maybe soon. None of this is edifying. No one is winning here — not the artists and certainly not internet users who just want easy, fairly-priced access to what those artists produce. With zealots on both sides, the scenario risks becoming openly destructive.

Now is the time for everyone to come to the table on just terms, and for both sides to start making sense. Tricky as it is, that involves defining what is right and what is wrong.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.

Topics: Security


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.