Gia’s posted an interesting and timely rant about the whole copyright/fair use/personal use/file sharing mess we’re in. A direct example for people who haven’t really come across all this yet: I missed Absolute Power and The Extras on Thursday night. While I could have recorded them to tape – or even rigged something up with some other video kit here and recorded them onto my laptop at somewhat better quality – I didn’t bother. Why? Because I knew I’d be able to hop over to UKNova and download the files.
Now… from my point of view these were both BBC shows; I pay my license fee; I could have legally recorded them, for personal use, on my VHS deck. The quality would have been rubbish, and programming the VCR is clumsy and annoys the heck out of me. The alternative is that I download the same programme; it’s still clumsy to do, but I’d say easier than setting the VCR, and I don’t lose the tape by forgetting to label it.
But here’s the kicker – the download alternative is unlicensed redistribution of copyright material. It’s illegal. The BBC don’t lose out and I gain convenience, but currently it’s still copyright infringement.
The (near-)future of TV involves working out this sort of situation. Does it remain illegal? Will the tricky-to-use effectively-underground networks be overtaken by something legal with reasonable digital rights management and charges, like the iTunes Music Store? Or will the DRM be draconian and something we all have to bash our heads against on a daily basis, as the planned US systems currently look?
Over in the US there’s an organisation campaigning on this sort of thing from a ‘general public’ perspective, and it’s been remarkably successful; it’s called the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which, I have to say, always sounded naff to me. Maybe it loses something in the translation). There’s nothing similar in the UK, which is partly why the future of broadcast and digital media is being decided behind closed doors – when reporters are looking around for quotes, there’s nobody to put a counter-position, so it goes unreported.
A week ago at OpenTech, Danny O’Brien chaired a session titled ‘Where’s the British EFF?’. In a remarkable stroke of joined-up thinking, the group started a pledge drive via the cute and recently-launched PledgeBank system run by MySociety (many of whom were in the room, of course). This resulted in coverage from the Guardian (er… by Danny) and BBC Online, amongst others, but if you want to see the session in most of its glory there’s honest-to-goodness video of it thanks to… er, well, [blush] that would be me; also see Danny’s notes, Cory’s story at BoingBoing, Suw Charman’s first and second posts, Technorati’s list of people linking to the pledge.
Feel free to post additional links in the comments, but bear in mind that most of the readers here aren’t already digital rights activists, nor even total geeks. If this thing is to be successful, we need to convince a broad constituency that it’s important.