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The moral crossroads

There are two kinds of government. One kind cares about it’s people, and the other treats them as cattle, little more than a resource. I know there are lots of terms for different systems of running everything from a community to a continent, but they all either care or they don’t.

Things have been changing in the UK for a while now, and I’m talking here about the mostly overlooked battle that’s being fought between content providers and anyone with a shred of care for the public. It surfaces occasionally with a sensationalist headline in the media, but the majority of UK citizens don’t realise what the Media corporations are up to. America already has the RIAA pursuing college file sharers and others for ridiculous sums of money using suspect evidence, and just like in many other ways the UK is becoming increasingly like the USA.

I remember having Disco’s and a Headmaster at my senior school, but it now has Prom’s and a Principal. Small changes I would happily live with if we didn’t have to suffer the same shift of power towards big business and the criminalisation of its customers. An article at Ars Technica got my attention and really brings together what’s happening at the moment. It’s a complicated issue that I won’t repeat here, but none of it benefits anyone but the Music corporations and shareholders. Will the artists who create the product see a big improvement in royalties and treatment? By the time the executives and lawyers take their share I doubt there will be much left for those that generate the money.

As the Ars article points out, there are opponents of the Media interests, such as the Open Rights Group. It’s reasuring that someone is fighting for the rights of the public, even if it isn’t our Government. And the question is, why not? Why are ISP’s, Media companies and civil rights groups being left to fight it out? I could almost think ministers don’t want to get involved in an argument that will eventually anger big money or the general public. Or maybe it’s because they don’t really understand this ‘internet’ thing and don’t realise that current teenagers grew up with file sharing an accepted part of social networking.

The thing is, it’s not just the British government that don’t seem to understand the internet. Media companies still try to restrict us with DRM crippled products that are limited to compatible devices and frequently in working life. Some are embracing DRM free media as the way forward, while others desperately cling to the old business models that worked so well before the world got connected. There are new ways of selling content being dreamed up all the time, and some are promising. I’ve written about the subscription model before, where we would all pay a set fee each month and download (and keep) whatever we want from authorised servers of high quality media. Ars mentions the survey where the University of Hertfordshire asked P2P users if they would pay for a legal file sharing service, and 80% said yes. That’s a huge amount of extra legal money for the artists.

The question here isn’t would it work, it’s why isn’t it being worked on now. The UK has the BBC, a corporation that takes our license fee for what now amounts to a much smaller proportion of the total available content. I’m not disputing the quality of content, but if we have an infrastructure to collect and monitor the paying of this fee to one body, why can’t we have one that monitors all content and dishes out the money as appropriate? Would it have anything to do with a loss of power for the few big Media Corporations?

This all comes back to my opening statement that Governments either care or they don’t. They should care enough to stop us becoming a resource for the Big Money’s legal departments. They should care enough to stop our children’s mistakes and habits become obscene legal bills. And they should care enough about the artists to give them a fair deal.

America has a new President Elect who promises a fairer, people centric future. Maybe we could have one of those in the UK.

And a final though. The Federation Against Software Theft is calling for ten years imprisonment if convicted of online commercial piracy. A longer prison sentence for software piracy than rape and murder? Aren’t the priorities getting mixed up here?

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