There’s no doubt, I’m becoming a New Labour fan – sort of, selectively. And just as it is about to be replaced, and all. Take Peter Mandelson’s proposal to protect copyright by introducing laws that could cut the connections of millions of free-loading piratical internet users. That’s the stuff!
Of course, such proposals have received howls of disapproval from open digital rights campaigners, otherwise known as defenders of the social media crowd (the sillier ones, that is). They argue that Mandelson’s Bill would curtail their freedom of expression, when in actual fact it would curtail internet access of offenders and leave everybody’s right to express themselves untouched.
The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not happy either. That’s not least because the clampdown would be bad for their business. They argue in favour of “persuasion, not coercion”.
Meanwhile, the common denominator that unites open digital rights campaigners with ISPs against Mandelson is limp scaremongering:
…industry experts warn these harsh new measures could easily lead to innocent web users being cut off by mistake.
Perhaps that’s a risk. But we can see such mix-ups coming. We can apply commonsense when considering taking action under any law that gets passed. So to use that worry as the main point to oppose Mandelson’s move to tackle online file sharing of other people’s property (that means they’re stealing) is an evasion.
Then there’s the disingenuous attack on Mandelson’s reputation, claiming that he’s given in to a big lobbying operation. Hang on a minute, every side on this issue has mounted a big lobbying campaign, not least Ian Livingston, of BT; Charles Dunstone, of Carphone Warehouse, which owns TalkTalk; and Tom Alexander, of Orange.
It should not provoke criticism that Mandelson prefers the arguments of one group of lobbyists in preference to another’s. I am so keen on my newfound best friend, that I won’t hear a word against Mandy’s holiday assignations.
Roads, railways, shipping lanes, spectrum, our skies and more are really great social networks that are already highly regulated to protect our collective – mass – interests. Why should the internet be allowed to be a private-property-free free-for-all environment?
Strict limits to our rights is part and parcel of their protection. For instance, the right denied me to drive the wrong way up a one-way street exists for good reason, as does the law against stealing cars. But today’s social media crowd see themselves as Mr. Toad, possibly the world’s first joyrider, did when he asked “I wonder if this sort of car starts easily?” It took the Chairman of the Bench to bring him down to earth:
“To my mind,” observed the Chairman of Bench of Magistrates cheerfully, “the only difficulty that presents itself in this otherwise very clear case is, how we can possibly make it sufficiently hot for the incorrigible rogue and hardened ruffian whom we see cowering in the dock before us. Let me see: he has been found guilty, on the clearest evidence, first, of stealing a valuable motor-car; secondly of driving to the public danger; and, thirdly, of gross impertinence to the rural police.
“Mr Clerk, will you tell us, please, what is the very stiffest penalty we can impose for each of these offences? Without, of course, giving the prisoner the benefit of any doubt, because there isn’t any.”
(The Wind in The Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, Egmont Books)
Actually, while I back Mandelson’s proposed law, the real solution lies in public education. Here I’m talking about mass public education of the public, as in the public as a whole as defined by the dictionary.
Yes, despite those who say mass is dead or all that remains is publics, mass public relations is needed more than ever in the age of social media fragmentation. Björn Ulvaeus, mastermind behind Abba’s electric Abba Gold, argued it like this in yesterday’s The Times:
“To get a generation accustomed to free downloads to respect copyright as much as the ownership of physical things is hard but it must be done.
“A few of years ago, I discovered that the music my youngest daughter listened to was downloaded free from Napster and that she had no idea that what she was doing was wrong. It was easy to explain it to her, however, and now she pays for her music downloads. It needs to be easy and trouble-free, and it is now.”
He’s right, that’s the way to go. We need to combine legal sanction with commonsense and education to bring about consent in the public domain. So, bring on the PR and make it mass.