Categories: Media issues / PR issues

13 September 2009


Defend Intellectual Property against Mr. Toad

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. 


8 responses to “Defend Intellectual Property against Mr. Toad”

  1. Edward Boggis-Rolfe says:

    Freedom to surf is the same as freedom to do anything else, if you do something wrong you deserve to be locked up, I consider being disconnected is the same thing for doing wrong on the internet.

    Having said that legal file sharing of copyrighted material should be made easier, if that is made to be the case it is so much less hassle than illegally ripping and publishing your own copy. I think that record companies have realised that and sites such as Spotify will solve this public need for all but the most hard core. It is just that the old fogies in the recording industry have taken years to catch up with the new realities, technologies and revenue streams.

  2. tim beighton says:

    Oh dear paul, I really hope your being sarcastic!
    Normally I tend to agree with your arguments, in the least if not necessarily the whole however this time you have over stepped the mark.
    Your article does not answer the one question that may back up your claims, you just presume it is given: why is internet piracy wrong?
    You cannot compare it to rules of the road or shipping lanes etc. These rules are to stop people dying or coming t harm. Piracy of music does not kill, maim also miss another important point thatfilesharing is globall, since I last checked e don’t have a global government so New Labours plan is not really going to work, I and many others will just use a proxy server!
    Could you also explain how filesharing is different to making mixtapes in the 80s? Or did you never do that either? There is strong evidence to suggest that those who fileshare actually contribute in music at least to a vibrant music industry and infact increase competition in the industry.
    I worry you are writing as an idealist with little thought for reality when you state that commonsense should apply. When it comes to law in the UK commonsense is usually. Very far behind.
    I think Bjorn is just concerned about his pocket more than his daughters moral upbringing.
    One final question; could you explain why I should pay 79pence for a song in the uk when the same is far cheaper to buy in the US. If the playing field was fair in the first place perhaps less would be inclined to be pirates!
    Finally and I could go on and on in a rant on this topic,leave the internet alone its beauty is its anarchistic development, you try to monitor and legislate it too much and its soul will be ripped out.

  3. Alan Brighty says:

    You say we could apply common sense in administering the law. Never! Common sense is rarely applied! Witness all the idiocy over wheelie bins. The main point is: do we need even more laws? They have quadrupled under the pro-EU socialist government. The system is groaning already. Interestingly, I read that 75% of the people who download go on to buy the music in DVD or CD form. That makes rubbish out of the claims of hundreds of millions in lost income that the music industry lobbyists insist results from piracy.

  4. Tim Pendry says:

    I liked this well argued post even if, as a natural libertarian, anarchist some would say, I disagree … Where one stands on this issue is a matter of ideology. Once you have your ground, then and only then do you work through the consequences logically.

    If you make certain ideological assumptions about property rights and the rule of law, then your argument stands up well – as does the anecdote about Bjorn Ulvaeus.

    I start from a different ‘ideological assumption’ that the cost of a determined intrusion into private life by the Government in its attempts to protect the property rights of a few creatives and the industries that have built up around them is far too great in terms of our wider liberties.

    There is a balance here to be struck but the accumulation of wealth by (say) Elton John, Madonna and others belies the fear that real creative talent will be pauperised.

    Wide ‘free’ exposure increases the brand value of creatives (as we saw with the Arctic Monkeys) to the point where they automatically begin to reap the benefits from events, merchandising, actual product sales and so on. It is all about effective capitalist organisation under evolutionary pressure – we don’t need Government protecting creatives any more than it should protect the media.

    By what right can special interests, representing minorities, obligate Government, which is supposed to represent the interests of the majority, to use its monopoly of force against ordinary families (indeed, terrorise them into compliance with the needs of special interests against their will)?

    (I deal with this further at: )

    In short, your and the Government’s position represents the apex (typical of New Labour and of Mandelson) of a system where the political drive is to place propertied interests automatically above the democratic interests of the population, a shift from democratic socialism to traditional liberalism that this Party and Government has never tried to hide.

    It also makes an amusing and ironical comment on the values of the Generation of ’68 which wittered on and sung about freedom thirty years ago and is now solely concerned with property rights and pensions. This is why I am with the kids and the pirates – it is a political revolutionary and libertarian revolt against a stale culture that talks freedom but secretly fears it …

  5. Heather Yaxley says:

    I’m amused by the use of Mr Toad here – a toff of course. Were the magistrates and authorities seeking to protect the rights of the poor villagers whose lives were endangered by Toady types in their big smelly motors? Or was it that motor cars were seen as very common and not the sort of thing approved off by stuffy old legal types. Similar thinking seems to underpin a lot of the discussion about Internet and its free use.

    Interesting that in the case of UK roads, these were subsequently built and paid for largely by the state and tax payers – not by users. The Internet was created and built largely by goodwill of those interested in its development. The music industry and others have only come to see its use belatedly – and in the case of providing access to their wares, often after facing the pressures of those who saw its advantages (even if this challenged copyright).

    I am also rather puzzled by some of the way that copyright is seen today – it seems to apply very selectively to the “creativity” of some sectors (usually those that have been using it to make money). It was created for a purpose in previous centuries and so should be worthy of at least considerable debate today when other common practices have been challenged by the shifts of time.

    Finally, it is ironic that you can so freely quote from Wind in the Willows given that its copyright expired in the 1980s.

  6. Paul Seaman says:

    Heather, Mr. Toad provides a foretaste – circa 1908 – of the Me Generation that came to define 20th century consumerism. He’s is a devil-may-care Toad obsessed with his feelings, desires and his shifting life-style whims. He’s forever tugging at the constraints of society in the form of his friends’ expectations and, sometimes, the law. There’s something thoroughly modern about him.

    It struck me – as I read the book to my twelve-year-old son – that he was a lovable Mr. Self or Mr. Me; a basically decent chap that one cannot but like, even when disapproving of some of the things he did (as I disapprove of the abuse of copyright).

    In short, despite his toff origins, Mr Toad is a modern classless impulsive consumer. This ditty from the book celebrating his return home from prison, captures his spirit well:

    The Toad- came- home!
    There was panic in the parlours and howling in the halls,
    There was crying in the cow-sheds and shrieking in the stalls,
    When the Toad- came- home!
    When the Toad- came- home!
    There was smashing in of window and crashing in of door,
    There was chivvying of weasels that fainted on the floor,
    When the Toad-came home!
    Bang! go the drums!
    The trumpeters are tooting and the soldiers are saluting,
    And the cannon they are shooting and the motor-cars are hooting,
    As the- Hero- comes!
    Shout- Hoo-ray!
    And let each one of the crowd try and shout it very loud,
    In honour of an animal of whom you’re justly proud,
    For it’s Toad’s- great- day!

  7. Heather Yaxley says:

    I agree that there is something modern about Toad’s impulsiveness and law-breaking attitudes. He certainly was challenging the status quo of his times – and the motor car was the equivalent of the internet for many in the establishment. It is a great book – and maybe all the better that anyone can read it now online as it is out of copyright.

  8. Richard D North says:

    One of your commenters asks were’s the difference between making an ’80’s “mixtape” and 21st century filesharing. Isn’t it the very large difference that the former were usually replicated once or twice whilst the latter are intended to be and often are “published” or “broadcast” on a massive scale?