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Web Wars

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"G'Day Possums" (as Dame Edna would say).

Even though I'm in Australia at the moment, events in America and elsewhere have obliged me to put-down my surfboard and pick-up my typewriter, in order to express my bemusement at the PR disaster of Capitol Hill's proposed -- and now suspended -- anti-piracy laws and, moreover, the melodramatic response to these measures by "free love" stalwarts such as Wikipedia and Google, followed in turn by the "trophy" site closure of Megaupload by the Feds and the further retaliations by the hacktastic "Anonymous" group... as the Aussies would say, "Streuth" -- leave the classroom for five minutes and all hell breaks loose!

"Now don't get me wrong ladies and gentlemen -- Puleeze!!" (in the words of Australian, cultural icon Sir Les Patterson -- usually accompanied by extreme drooling, nicotine stained fingers and the outline of a worryingly python-like "proboscis" within his left trouser-leg), if the United States government sees fit to introduce hanging for mass uploaders, who am I to complain -- it'll just make Web Sheriff's job all-the-easier... but something causes me to stir as I drink my pint of Fosters on Bondi beach and contemplate the way in which the presentation of this legislation perpetuates the "us-and-them" mentality that has almost (correction -- definitely) been the undoing of the music and movie industries in the 20 years or so since the advent of the internet.

Whilst much of the current protest against SOPA (or the Stop Online Piracy Act -- and it's related PIPA or, Protect IP Act, consists of bleating-on-principle -- often misguidedly so, with Google's black "armband" being melodrama writ large and with Wiki's equally theatrical blackout nevertheless resulting in over 160, 000,000 page impressions in a day -- the allegedly unrelated closure of Megaupload and other file-locker sites is a prime example of the folly of some of those who purport to govern the creative industries. Megaupload is (sorry -- was, as the site has now been seized by the FBI) one of the most compliant "file-locker" sites on the Internet/planet... on-the-face-of-it their take-down policy was exemplary and very largely toe'd-the-line of existing laws -- in particular the so-called "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA as it is widely known -- that require a site owner or host to remove infringing content within a reasonable time of being notified of the illegal nature of the content-in-question by the rights owner or rights agent concerned. So far, so good. But, instead of encouraging more sites to offer speedy compliance procedures like Megaupload's, the U.S. government has seen fit to tap-dance past the numerous and notorious sites that do not immediately comply -- and who prefer to engage in a cat-and-dog fight over every last takedown notice -- and pull-down a site that was a model of co-operation, incarcerating Mr. Kim Dotcom (yes, really) and his alleged co-conspirators in the process! A similar story has previously unfurled in relation to the "torrent" website IsoHunt -- another model of compliance in an otherwise largely hostile environment and that is currently being sued for millions of dollars, whilst other (non-compliant) sites go-about-their-trade largely unmolested... which is a bit like the headmaster canning a prefect instead of the real culprit, as a way of intimidating the rest of the school into not peeping through matron's curtains at bedtime!!

Barack, Lamar et al -- it's time to end the show-boating and time to start consulting and creating a momentum of consensus (although I see that Obama is already deftly distancing himself from something that might be less-than-popular... in an election year - -what a coincidence!!)... as we have discovered both to our cost and to our benefit, it is vital to treat music and movie "consumers" as fans and not as criminals -- and this philosophy is something that we practice day-in-and-day-out, 365 days of the year, working with fans to include them in the pre-release, online marketing and promotion of records and films, harnessing their enthusiasm and replacing out-dated "anti-piracy"/ let's-beat-you-with-a-big-stick measures, with viral marketing initiatives that any artist's or movie's fanbase can actively and enjoyably participate in. Why use a stick to beat your own consumers when an open and inclusive dialogue is what is required?! In the early days of the internet, the record business -- then still run by dinosaurs from the 1970s -- was guilty of clinging onto out-dated technologies in the form of physical sound carriers (that they still hoped to sell to fans / their consumers for $19.99 a pop), when what the world wanted was cheap, legally accessible mp3 files... as a result of this failure to embrace the future and offer music fans what they actually wanted, Internet piracy understandably filled-the-void and flourished and, in the process, the whole "us-and-them" disconnect came to be set-in-stone. Embarrassingly for anyone whose career has been in the Music Business, it took an American computer company -- called Apple!! -- to reinvent not just itself, but the entire Record Industry with the advent of both the iPod and iTunes... a decade later and the Music Biz has finally caught-up, although it's still largely in the thrall of iTunes which, if you think about it, is pretty crazy -- it's a bit like a record label, let's say The Beatles' own label, called, err, Apple (which came first by-the-way!!) deciding that it wants to be in the computer business and then becoming as all-powerful Microsoft and IBM combined.

History, however, appears to have taught the politicians very little... SOPA does actually contain some sensible and potentially effective provisions (bring-on the smelling salts) and targeted, importantly, at entities that actually make money out of piracy... and yet they need to go-back-to-the-classroom when it comes to public consultation and presentation, as the same old "us-and-them" perception lingers around it like a bad smell -- putting the public right off its flatulent launch from the get-go.

Also, don't shed too much of a tear for Mr. Dotcom and his sidekicks... as Megaupload's larger-than-life, in every sense, boss was hauled out of the panic-room in his luxury compound by the New Zealand Police (or was it really the Navy Seals ?!), one underlying truth sealed-his-fate -- the fact that, whilst Megaupload and similar sites could of course be used for legal purposes, the overwhelming majority of the content on their sites was (as everyone knows) illegally distributed, copyright material... connecting-the-dots, the indictments against Megaupload claim that, when issued with take down notices, the file-locker company simply removed the links to the copyright files, but NOT the files themselves, which they kept on their servers and which shall doubtless keep highly-paid attorneys entertained as they debate the legal fineries in the proceedings to extradite Dr. Evil (sorry -- Mr. Dotcom) to Guantanamo (sorry -- the United States), where a firing-squad shall no doubt await his arrival.

These "Web Wars" threaten to rage-on for some considerable time yet -- particularly when Congress tries to reintroduce SOPA by the back door on a Friday evening when no one is looking -- and, as such and for those of you who like the smell of Napalm in the mornings, we'll continue to send you dispatches from the front-line... meanwhile and as they say here in Oz, it's nearly "beer-o-clock," so I better be going -- "No worries.".

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