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Does Pirate Bay verdict threaten Google - and who has been funding them?

According to Engadget: "The Stockholm district court in Sweden found the defendants guilty not of hosting materially illegally, but of "providing a website with sophisticated search functions, simple download and storage capabilities, and a tracker linked to the website [that helped users commit copyright violations]."

Sounds like that could include anything from YouTube to Gmail to Google Search itself (type your favourite film title into Google search box with the word 'torrent' afterwards). This could get interesting.

"The court said we were organised. I can’t get Gottfrid out of bed in the morning. If you’re going to convict us, convict us of disorganised crime."

Actually if anything, the Swedish crew behind the Pirate Bay - Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde - seem to be most guilty of having an almost North Korean attitude to public relations, appearing as far as i can tell largely unconcerned about the consequnces of their position on independent, experimental, art house and political/issue-based filmmakers. [edit - 1 May 09 - actually it appears Pirate Bay is(was) a happy and active contributor to StealThisMovie's Jamie King's Vodo]. There's no sign I can see that P2P piracy hurts big and brash studio blockbusters, the Big Mac and fries of Entertaiment. Unlike music, it's the independent and art-house films that seem to have suffered the most, at least as the industry currently is structured.

How hard would it have been to add a tip jar on the site so users could put a couple of quid in an appreciation in a pot that gets sent to the filmmakers - turning the Bayen into a kind of try before you buy service, that at least gives back to the good films that people like and want to watch more of. OK, pretty hard, but I'm sure someone could have helped out. [Edit - 1/5/9 -  They are working on it - Vodo] But imagine the alternative - a world where the only big features made are funded by commercial brands - which is the only way a no-pay model works for feature films right now, (tho the Finnish open source propos  -  Wreck a Movie - seems to be going from strength to strength).

Nevertheless, a year in prison will serve elevate the founders from 'thorn in foot' status to martyrs and public heroes to the Swedish - an advanced, righteous, if somewhat surly nation - and downloaders worldwide. The film rights on their stories alone will doubtless far exceed the fine they've been chargefd with.

'Neo Nazi' funding for Pirate Bay?

It took a few moments to believe this twist on the tale, as it seems so close to the old 'your dodgy dvd funds terrorists' spin on the FACT adverts that it seemed like a bluff. But according to The Registrar, defendent Carl Lundstrom owns some 40% of the site, pays their bandwidth bills and is currently bankrolling 100 MPs from the Swedish equivalent of the BNP (which is quite a scary prospect.. click the link to see what the Swedish call chocolate truffels in every day parlance). But it's a fact that is eerily under-reported, and for the Hollywod PR machine not to pick up on it suggests that it might not be true. Either that or they're just not very good at using Google, which is also plausible. I would like to learn more, as it would be a paranoid way to explain their unconditional hatred of Hollywood, where in its aim to celebrate of cultural diversity, seven out of the eight studiio heads are Jewish. It's certainly an allegation that they need to clear up. Oh, Google tells me they actually did clear this up in 2007. Kind of.

At the same time, with or without them, if the early reports from Brendan Tate's survey of cinema going habits is anything to go by, 97% of the net-connected population download films 'illegally'. Interestingly this is the same percentage the FT found in the population who downloaded illegal music, which I wrote about here two years ago here. As I get more and more lost in Spotify - also from Stockholm's technical wizzards - the more I thank in my heart the P2P pioneers who created all those years ago a software and service that let you get any music you wanted, against the risk of prison - as it forced the industry to come to agreement on a legitimate way to have the same 'convenient user experience'. In the words of Disney co-chair Ann Sweeney piracy was a 'competing business model'. So without this pioneering, yet infringing, activity, I would not be at the point where I can pay to subscribe to a legit, near-all-you-can-eat music service, and discover more incredible recorded music than I've ever heard before. And it's so much more easy to use than the illegite alternatives.

(for the record I should say the last and only film I've tried (and failed) to torrent was Steal This Movie. I also downloaded a great mashup of the Wu Tang and New Orleans soul about three years ago. Actually I now feel more like the dorky geek who has been single for five years now, then the cool geek who has a hard drive of excellent films everyone likes to know). Tho I did just link to a list of search results for Torrents. On Google. Will I go to prison?)

That Sweden has resisted and struggled to prosecute the Bayen for so long is as much a sign of their refusal to be bossed around by foreign corporate interest, and seems quite admirable in a world where foreign (ie US) commercial interests have long been forced upon countries whose laws might just happen to be different. A quick look at the US's own history in relation to foreign copyrights is vital reading and eye-opening. Ask Louis Le Prince. But then that's in the past when different races sat on separate buses.

So will the ruling be used to Golliath Google? It seems unlikely for now, but the test case has been won. If the ruling was applied to the web majors, filtering illegitimate content would sweep up so much good content inacurately (around a million blog posts are posted daily, each of which could include or link to illegitimate work, as this blog post possibly does) it would finish the web off as a platform for free speech. It would also destroy any hope the film industry has of improving its deteriorating relationship with its current major funders - us and the rest of the paying public.

More interesting to me tho is how long the film industry will resist making the biopic about a very modern Pirate Boat (That Rocked).


New government anti-piracy campaign finally takes the post-Cluetrain carrot

Communicating the message that films are generally very expensive to make, and that widespread piracy will directly affect the number and quality of films produced and released, should have been a straight forward pitch. However after years of, literally, demonising piracy as the sponsor of terrorism and child pornography (good round up of videos at the Guardian, my fave is at bottom of this page) a credibility gap has been created, leading otherwise intelligent and responsible people to argue that that the studios deserve piracy in response to the mountain of crap they've produced over the year - how many hours of lives can we not get back having forked out for a ticket to watch a lousy film that was marketed to be something far better?

This comes regardless of the inconvenient truth that big studio features tend to do well regardless of how much they are downloaded (The Dark Knight topped both the legitimate and illegitimate charts last year), but small indpendent films are the ones most likely to be hurt as they are hard enough to get hold of to begin with, and there is a higher consumer risk associated with them given their lack of known actors. For many people, given the choice between paying £10 or more to see a foreign arthouse film with no recongisable talent, or downloading a 'try-before-you-buy' version, piracy wins out on convenience and risk. And for a film on this scale, without the cushion of a large cinema release for marketing or income, every less DVD bought makes an impact.

The UK government's latest campaign, You Make the Movies, following the light hearted peer-pressure angle of 'knock off Nigel' in the last few years, thanks viewers for providing the money that lets great films be made. I could wax full of praise and relief for this new approach, but the main point, as should be the aim of any such marketing message, is it alienates no-one. If you've bought cinema tickets or DVDs recently, you can feel valued by the film industry. If you haven't, then like a child's quest for paternal approval you may subconsciously seek to earn that approval at some future point when you can join the big happy family of fans and filmmakers all cheering each other on. It's a post-Cluetrain approach, and I'll be very suprised if it doesn't work. My only gripe would be that it could focus more on the films that Britain makes (rather than Jaws and Lord of the Rings), to really hammer the point home about supporting our local industry. Perhaps there could be a follow up campaign where British indie filmmakers also voice and upload their thanks for buying their films - people like Chris Jones, Jan Dunn, Charlie Belville, Ben Hopkins and the thousands of others like us, to give the message that your local filmmaker is a bit like your hard-up local pub landlord, and doesn't live in a mansion in LA.


Doctorow's Creative Commons licensed book enters fifth week on NY Times Bestsellers list

littlebrother3.jpgCory Doctorow's latest novel, Little Brother, is available to download for free from his website, as well as remix, share and distribute to your friends. The book has just had its fifth week on the New York Times Bestsellers list under Children's literature, and entered Publishers Weekly chart - the first Creative Commons licensed book to do so. The book is set in a near-future dystopian 'database state' where civil liberties have been destroyed.

Doctorow has long argued against current media industry sales and distribution practices. I first came across his ideas after from a now legendary speech he had given at Microsoft encouraging them to drop DRM from their music players - an idea now largely accepted across the music industry. Using Tim O'Reilly's maxim that obscurity is a greater threat for an indpendent artist than piracy (and that piracy is progressive taxation), Doctorow has long encouraged fans of his fiction to download copies, translate it, make their own covers (see pictured), and even reprint and distribute copies - provided it is not for profit. As one of BoingBoing's editors - one of the web's most popular blogs - such derivative works are guaranteed further exposure and most significantly the practice has not hurt his book sales, as the NY Times positioning demonstrates.

The main question for filmmakers is whether the model is transferable. A purchased book offers signficant advantages over a downloaded version: curling up with a laptop or ream of A4 sheets stapled together will never quite be the same. There is little visible difference on the other hand between a purchased DVD on a TV screen, against a downloaded copy, except for the convenience and time involved - and the packaging of a special edition.

But perhaps the reason so many people are buying Doctorow's book is less that they prefer it to the downloaded version they could blag for free, but because of the relationship he has built up with his core audience, nurtured diligently through BoingBoing. That engagement and communication also seems central to the approach of the few early web film distribution success stories;, Four Eyed Monsters and Brave New Films.

For those wanting to learn more from the man, it's just been announced that Sheffield's B.Tween Festival - which I can thoroughly recommend -  have him as opening keynote speaker .


Michael Moore: "I think ideas, information and art should be shared"

 As Sicko gears up for release in the US on June 29 to strong reviews from the left and right, it has already hit the BitTorrent sites in a high quality version, getting more rave reviews from the blogsphere, and even Michael Moore's approval. The director says in the video below that his motivation as a filmmaker is to spread ideas, and so long as people aren't profiting from his work, he doesn't see any problem with online 'sharing' of his film.

Following on from this - Information Week has just published a well-reasoned attack of the 'Information Economy' - which most current media business thinking is built on  - by Cory Doctorow (quoted below):

"The futurists were just plain wrong. An "information economy" can't be based on selling information. Information technology makes copying information easier and easier. The more IT you have, the less control you have over the bits you send out into the world. It will never, ever, EVER get any harder to copy information. The information economy is about selling everything except information." continued




EU passes controversial 'anti-consumer' copyright legislation

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The European Parliament has just voted to pass the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED2) without substantive amendment, despite growing public opposition from across the European Union. The final vote of 374 to 278 with 17 abstentions points to a margin of Parliamentary support that has been narrowing ever since the Directive left subcommittee. While we are disappointed that IPRED2 was not defeated at this stage, we can see clearly the impact of the efforts of the over 8,000 Europeans who've taken action against the Directive. We were told by the two largest political parties that they felt that the Directive had not been given enough time to be properly discussed, and that our campaign had definitely contributed to the discussion. 

The fight now moves to the Council of the European Union, where it will be considered by representatives of the national governments of all EU Member States. Several states have started to mount resistance to IPRED2 in recent weeks, with the UK and Holland leading the charge. Europeans worried about their right to innovate, and their ability to live under clear, fair criminal laws must now turn to their own national governments to ensure that IPRED2 doesn't set a terrible precedent for copyright law, and the EU legal process. If the Council disagrees with EuroParl's action -- which we believe is in reach -- IPRED2 would be returned for a second reading. 


EFF sues Viacom over YouTube BraveNewFIlms Pulldown

As Universal, NBC, News Corp, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo join forces on a new video platform, MoveOn BoingBoing reports that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing Viacom on behalf of and Brave New Films (producers of Iraq for Sale and Outfoxed), over YouTube's takedown of Colbert parody. Here's a snip from the EFF's statement:

"Our clients' video is an act of free speech and a fair use of 'Colbert Report' clips," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Viacom knows this -- it's the same kind of fair use that 'The Colbert Report' and 'The Daily Show' rely upon every night as they parody other channels' news coverage."

The video, called "Stop the Falsiness," was created by MoveOn and Brave New Films as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Colbert's portrayal of the right-wing media and parodying MoveOn's own reputation for earnest political activism. The short film, uploaded to YouTube in August 2006, includes clips from "The Colbert Report" as well as humorous original interviews about show host Stephen Colbert. In March of this year, Viacom -- the parent company of Comedy Central -- demanded that YouTube take "Stop the Falsiness" down, claiming the video infringed its copyrights.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a mere allegation of copyright infringement on the Internet can result in content removal, silencing a creator before any misuse is proven. This "shoot first, ask questions later" system can silence online artists and critics, creating unfair hurdles to free speech.

Link. Watch the video here.


Patent Pending With Changes in UK Intellectual Property

The Patent Office LogoThe Patent Office is to undergo a name change on the 2nd April to the UK Intellectual Property Office. The change was recommended in the Gower Review of Intellectual Property and is meant to reflect the wider role of the Patent Office in future.

Ron Marchant, chief executive of the Patent Office, explained that businesses built on other kinds of intellectual property such as trademarks and copyright designs have often commented that the name does not reflect all the responsibilities of the office.


Arts Council publishes report into Creative Commons and emerging attitudes from artists

creative_commons_haircut_george_kelley_sm"In theory copyright represents the ability to make a living off my work. In practice it represents the threat of myself or my children not being able to express themselves without fear of the rich and powerful invoking their copyrights to silence us."  Contributor and the Arts Council of England have published a report looking at the attitudes towards copyright amongst British creatives. Recognising that 170,000 websites in the UK now licesne their work under creative commons including the Tate, FourDocs (and Netribution), the survey explored how artists relate to rights legislation. Although not a representative sample, 96% of those interviewed displayed a negative perception of current copyright law, coupled with a general openness to 'share now, pay later' attitudes which underpin Creative Commons.


Cory Doctorow's speech on copyright and successful media internet business models

cory doctorow

"no one woke up this morning looking for a way to do less with their music or movies"

Cory Doctorow has long been a tireless champion of emerging business models and shifts in copyright for creatives on the Internet. His argument is simple - a business strategy which turns the majority of web users into criminals (39 out of 40 music downloaders according to the FT) isn't sustainable. His talk, which looks at how digital rights management encourages people to act illegally, has recently appeared on Google Video and is bursting with arguments about why a shift in thinking is needed (inevitable, even).