Whilst You’re in the U.S. Mr. Cameron—Take a Stand Against Corrupt Lobbyists
I was shocked this morning to see that the UK, in the person of Home Secretary, Theresa May, has ordered Richard O’Dwyer’s extradition. For those of you who thought that the SOPA battle was won, think again. This is madness. This is wrong. This is why the 99% movement, as it finds its feet and its voice, will not go quietly into any dark night—apologies to Dylan Thomas.
For those of you who are unaware of the background here please read, in full, my post of last June, reproduced below. This was when there were few of us concerned to the max about S.978 that became SOPA. Read, think, then read the linked Guardian article. It’s too late in the U.S., but the Brits tagged on this post should lobby—loudly.
Follow the Money—The Bill is in the Tail
$85,748,057 plays $29,100. Given the money involved and the vested interest, maybe it’s not so surprising that there has been little connection made between two stories that will impact every consumer of online media.
It is rare that I find myself needing to use the word ‘conspiracy’ in a post. Sadly, I can think of no other word that can explain the mainstream media’s silence. Specifically, the media’s failure to make the connection between the efforts of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department to extradite British student Richard O’Dwyer, and the bi-partisan support for the passage of S.978.
For those of you, whether in the UK, US, or, indeed, around the globe, who are just about to skip the rest of this post on the basis that neither O’Dwyer, nor the US Congress and S.978 have anything to do with you, I encourage you to have a little patience. For those of you who are reading this online (that would be 100%), and who have ever shared copyrighted material online (that’s certainly greater than 70%), you should be concerned. Very.
First of all, a little background. Richard O’Dwyer is a 23-year-old undergrad at Sheffield University. His ‘crime’ was (past tense since Mr. O’Dwyer took the site down last year as soon as he was contacted by the authorities), the publication of a website (‘TVShack’) that, although it did not host illegally-copied material, did provide links to sites that did. As such, there was little difference between O’Dwyer’s site, and most, if not all search engines. Any difference that does exist could be argued to be that users of the site should be expected to know that the downloads accessed through the links were illegally-copied. However, I don’t see Twitter’s management subject to extradition to the UK in the Super-Injunction case . Nor should they be. Links are simply links. It is the users who bear responsibility for their actions.
Further, in the UK precedent would prevail and, under existing case law, Mr. O’Dwyer did not commit a crime. In a sensible world the removal of the site would have been the end of the matter. However, late last month, Richard O’Dwyer was arrested at the request of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department. He spent a night in prison, subsequently appearing in court this past week at the start of his fight against extradition. This is where S.978 comes in.
S.978 is a bill the stated purpose of which is to, “amend the criminal penalty provision for criminal infringement of a copyright, and for other purposes.” In plain English, the bill will criminalize streaming of content through changing such activities’ legal status from a misdemeanor to a felony. Potentially this brackets those who share copyrighted material on YouTube, whether intentionally or not, with the criminal element that operates full-scale DVD reproduction and distribution operations. With massive fines and/or up to five years imprisonment, in the event that he is extradited and found guilty, the potential penalty will make Mr. O’Dwyer’s night in Wandsworth prison seem like a pleasant break from college.
Now I’ve been watching the progress of S.978 for a while. However, it was not until last Friday when I followed up on a Tweet from and looked at the numbers on Maplight.org that the scale of the inequity hit home. As pointed out very succinctly in OpenCongress.org , S.978 is a very rare thing. It is a bill with bi-partisan support (should that be tri-partisan support since it has backing of the White House too?), in an age when even essential and obvious Acts languish through political point scoring. It was a couple of hours later that I read a summary of the O’Dwyer case in the Guardian . This was late on Friday evening.
The connection between the two stories, the currency, and the importance of the issues involved led me to expect several thousand words of analysis and commentary over the week-end. Instead of which, forty-eight hours later, nothing. There have been a few pieces in technology blogs and the second-tier media. However, in the mainstream there’s been barely a word. We know that it’s all about the money. However this seems more. It’s hardly surprising that the word ‘conspiracy’ comes to mind.
As any other author and publisher, I support copyright protection and the laws required to ensure that creativity is encouraged and rewarded in a tangible form. As a pragmatist, I acknowledge that personal sharing will continue and that it is the models that need to change to accommodate the fact.
Further, I understand that in today’s cloud-based digital environment, truly creative thinking and real investment, rather than draconian acts and legal remedy, need to be applied to discourage wholesale copying and distribution. I say ‘discourage’ because stopping it altogether is no more possible today than it was in the days of VHS and cassettes.
However, as a voter, a commentator, a concerned citizen, and a media consumer I’m saddened that even the thinking media are able to turn a blind eye to the obvious and allow vested interest prevail. I expect it of the politicians. I expect it of the majority of the media. But the entirety? Sad.