Coincidentally timed to
coincide with Microsoft’s much heralded move to tax the lucky
users of its software with its new annual subscription services
(Upgrade Advantage and Software Assurance) on an ongoing basis,
comes the news that Her Majesty’s Constabulary can now smash
down your front door and feel your collar on suspicion that you
might be in possession of a dodgy MP3 you “borrowed” from the
internet. Do I exaggerate? Let’s see…
The innocuously named “Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Bill” is
possibly one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation ever to
have passed through parliamnent, but precious few people seem to
have noticed what it actually implies.
Without widening the scope of the original Act, this Bill
does some pretty draconian stuff with interpretation and
penalties: it increases the maximum penalties for copyright
offences from two years to 10 years (by way of comparisons, a
recent rape case in Scotland where the victim committed suicide
resulted in a 4 year custodial sentence). This nasty bit of
legislation also brings a smile to the grizzled features of Rupert
Murdoch, with the news that that this penalty will also apply to
the production of unauthorised digital TV decoders.
A key provision is that
search warrants can now be obtained for all copyright offences,
including possession and sale of infringing items, and the rules
on seizure and forfeit will be tightened. (Let’s recall that the
HM Customs & Excise were recently castigated by the Law Lords
for their aggressive and over-zealous treatment of travellers from
the continent who came back laden with more booze and ciggies than
the C&E deemed necessary -
“in their judgement”. At the whim of C&E, many a
vehicle has been impounded and either flogged off or crushed –
although it seems that the tax payers may soon be required to undo
their zealousness, and compensate many of the victims.
I am not seeking to
condone software piracy and IPR theft, I just want to see this
issue put into perspective, because I do not trust our various
enforcement agencies to interpret bad law any way other than
“badly”. And I
trust MPs to understand and legislate on technology as much as I
trust Jade Goody to win “Brain of Britain”. And so should you,
when you remember that these are the same people for whom
Broadband Britain was going to be the best place on the planet for
e-business back in 1999.
This piece of work is a
dream ticket for Microsoft specifically, and the US in general,
since the US pursuit of IPR is notoriously the most determined on
the planet. After all, their entertainment industry makes
$billions from goods that sell on >95% gross margins in the
shape of DVDs that are simply 2 hour commercials for merchandise,
music CDs produced to support the habits of the drug addicts that
churn them out, and software that barely works.
Meantime, developing countries struggle to sell the West
the crucial commodities like bananas and cocoa crops, farmed by
low wage labour, and where the price has barely risen in 5 years,
and where the vast majority of margin on the sale to the consumer
occurs on the shelves of your local Tesco or Asda.
The only positive spin I
can think of is that perhaps this is actually the best possible
news for the Linux and free software brigades which represent the
ultimate in the struggle against these forces of oppression and
evil – especially now that the software and music industry
lobbyists seems to have had their evil way with our witless
legislators yet again.
Let’s hope that equal
effort will now be brought to bear on the cartels and price fixing
monopolies that exist all over the area of these “copyright”
goods. How else other than by a complete absence of serious
competitive pressure can any business regularly sell products at
95% gross margin? Or
a law that says if software crashes your PC and trashes your data,
then you can claim damages..? The same law might as well regulate
the maximum speed at which pigs might fly.
Strangely, businesses that
struggle along with less cash to spend on lobbying don’t have
the lobbying attractiveness of those that do, so in the meantime,
expect Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch to continue to pull the
levers at Westminster.
It’s all about the very
dubious but increasingly popular section of the law that basically
defies the “reasonable citizen” to object to increasing
impositions of the nanny state that must somehow good for us all.
So then, what have you got to hide..?
When you hear the sound of
the front door splinter as Customs and Excise blast in to examine
your collection of CDRs and the contents of your PC cache because
the records that your ISP is now obliged to maintain show that you
logged onto one of the Napster-alikes, are you going to be quite
certain there are no MP3s that shouldn’t really be there? Can
you produce the licence for that copy of Windows 2000 on the PC
you bought from the manager’s bargain bin? No?
You had better keep the name of a good lawyer handy.
OK, so I might be
exaggerating just a bit. But this country has a disturbing habit
of producing legislation like this while the rest of the world
simply laughs at our touching naivety, whilst happily exporting
the peaked caps (with the false Gucci labels) and those
computerised ticket-issuing machines, running on a bootleg copy of
Windows CE, to our zealous enforcement agencies.
Read all about at…
And can I see the license
for that copy of Acrobat you are using, please..?