Online piracy laws: Is it just about the money?

The online piracy bill is even closer to becoming law. Some argue it is political, some say it has been rushed and not considered properly. I say it's about money.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

British Telecom - the UK's telecommunications provider, TalkTalk and O2 - two major ISPs, Google and YouTube, the British Library, eBay, Yahoo!, the Open Rights Group, and Facebook, along with tens of thousands of citizens if not more, but also the biggest, richest and most influential organisations in the world oppose the UK Internet piracy bill which could force users offline if caught downloading material.

But one industry likes it. The music industry.

The House of Lords have passed this legislation which means this new bill could become law before the general election in the next couple of months, amid criticisms that it has been rushed and not thought through properly.

Students and the Generation Y have been built up on this technology and I am a strong advocate of Pandora's box theory. The consequences of cutting off access to the web to individuals with little, non-substantive or no evidence are huge not only morally and economically but legally.

Universities are facing potentially disruptive action as IP addresses traced to on-campus machines are forcing these institutions to take responsibility for illegal file-sharing when they can either blame the student or knuckle-down the network and infringe upon academic freedom.

The new law will work, basically, like this:


But there is so much more to it than the black and white of "legal vs. illegal". Focus on political leverage and positioning with corporate giants and money, and you'll probably get to a clearer answer.

An interesting debate between the Featured Artists Coalition and the opposition shows some artists seeing the Internet as a benefit rather than a threat, using the web and social media to start their careers and spreading their own work naturally without the need of the music industry backing. One could argue this is the main threat to the music industry - artists not needing or wanting the assistance of the sector unlike a few decades ago where physical records and capitalist function was the end result.

But the "illegal downloading" definition is still sparse, undefined and loose at least. I don't use torrents unless absolutely necessary as they are not always dependable as other people may not have a high connection, or the file may simply not be available. Yet through RapidShare, MediaFire, FilesTube and more, these web hosted areas offer HTTP downloads which are as fast as you can download. These, unlike torrents, can still be traced but with more difficulty as court orders must be issued, server logs searched, and frankly this is a legal mindfield and rarely happens.

As far as I am concerned, downloading copyrighted material through a HTTP service like RapidShare is your best way of avoiding detection. Though I don't advocate anonymity systems which are available to use, there are ways of bypassing detection through use of torrents. On to Figure 2.

Public consumer group Which? Computing is investigating claims that a law firm has sent letters to over 150 people who it claims have downloaded files illegally without providing evidence. Many are worried that some could be wrongly accused and finding proof of such activity is difficult enough as it is anyway. While in a court of law you are granted a defence, it is impossible to prove that you haven't done something as proving a negative cannot be done.

So as I see it, Lord Mandelson, a politician who was sacked from the Cabinet twice before and brought back by a dying Labour government as a member of the House of Lords as a non-elected representative, to now attempt to rush through these draconian measures to cut off illegal downloaders before the General Election.

But why?

I believe many will agree that not knowing something is worse than the result itself. An unknown illness which brings you down for years is relief to know just what it is, rather than anything else. Simply knowing something - an answer, a reason or a diagnosis - can be enough to settle most minds. But getting hard, descriptive answers from a politician is harder than squeezing blood from a stone. If Mandelson explains the reasons honestly and frankly, perhaps we could regroup and take stock for another plan of action.

But I can bet my lucky stars it will not happen. Frankly it feels like I'm banging my head against a brick wall whenever I write about this subject because no matter how hard we shout, the government doesn't listen. We can only hope and pray that this controversial piece of legislation will be political suicide and the succeeding government will drop the plans or at least refine them to bolster public interest and spirit.

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