Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Swedish police are censoring political websites

Today I was about to write a post about repression of political rights on the Internet in different parts of the world (see this BBC special report), but it turned out that the very same morning Swedish police raided the servers of The Pirate Bay, the world's largest BitTorrent tracker. In the absence of more information, one would assume what is hosted by The Pirate Bay are only links that point to copyrighted material stored somewhere else (on the computers of the millions of individual users using the site), and thus not any copyrighted material per se. However, it is as of yet unconfirmed exactly what other material is hosted on these servers - one thing is for sure, though, and that is that these servers also hosted the Piratbyrån website, forum and news agency: a fully legal, acknowledged and popular political website.
This is outrageous.
Piratbyrån ("The Pirate Association" or "Bureau of Piracy"; see further description here*) is a political activist organisation that propagates for changes in copyright law. Now the Swedish police has rejected them the right to express their views through seizing their web servers. The initiative to the raid most likely came from the Antipiratbyrån organisation; the main lobby organisation of the multinational entertainment industry in Sweden, an organisation which represents an opposite stance in the issue.
In other words, a political attack against a perfectly legitimate political web site, initiated by a non-democratic, corporate interest organisation, effected by the police. Does this sound like something that would happen in Cuba or in China?
No, it happened in Sweden, 109 days before the general election (in which a Pirate Party, affiliated to the closed-down website is participating).

links in english:

links in swedish:
*) Note: I have to link to Google's cached version, due to the Piratbyrån servers being down...

Monday, May 08, 2006

File-sharing: The American way

Fredrik at Crooked Moon writes, in a disillusioned, very critical way, about American influences on “IP” (I myself have a problem with that abbreviation) law and the politics of file-sharing in Sweden. He notes how connecting file-sharing with terrorism has been a cunning rhetorical tactic among corporate hard-liners and DRM advocates. However, using questionable methods themselves (remember the Sony rootkit conundrum and note the current rumour that AT&T forwards all Internet traffic to the panopticon-like National Security Agency), the credibility of these corporate actors would pale by comparison.

What is most worrying with the US [...] is the fact that private organizations to a very large part control the decision-making. NRA is a good example. Another one is the RIAA, which was integral to the DMCA, which they now want to revise [and make even harsher]. Amongst other things, they would like to see file-sharing of software leading to potentially 10 years in jail (20 if repeated), and allow bugging in legal investigations of file-sharing, something which should raise some thoughts also in Sweden, noting the discussions regarding monitoring citizens and [proposed] harder legal measures against file-sharers.
There is also a law proposal regarding digital broadcasting. In short, the proposition wants to limit the use of digital reciever equipment to “customary historic use”, instead of the present standard of “fair use”. At first sight, it might not look that special, but is has a significant drawback (source: Ars Technica):

The post points to broadcast flag draft legislation sponsored by Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) that contains provisions which appear to limit digital broadcast media reception devices to “customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law and that prevents redistribution of copyrighted content over digital networks.” In other words, if it does anything heretofore unheard of with the digital content that it receives, then it’s illegal. And if it does anything “customary” that could also possibly lead to unauthorized redistribution, then it’s also illegal.

The currently most interesting case, and at the same time most frightening, Fredrik notes, is the case of Elektra versus Barker:

The case in itself is not special, it is very similar to the 19,000 law suits that the RIAA have run against American citizens. What has happened is that EFF noticed that RIAA/MPAA tried to change copyright law through trying to reach a prejudicate in this case. What they are trying is to change the definition of copyrighted material. More specifically: Simply the fact that you have a shared folder on your hard drive, regardless if you have uploaded anything or not, and regardless if you have actually legally acquired everything in this folder, makes you a distributor of protected material (source). Would this case set principle, that would have devastating effects for how the Internet works in the US, and for the rest of the world. More about this at Ars Technica.
It might seem weird that the RIAA / MPAA are so tough on their customers/users, noting that these organisations do not abide by especially high legal/moral standards. Earlier, the large recording corporations that the RIAA represent have been caught forming price cartels, and it has also turned out that they deliberately lied in an investigation regarding whether they were trying to instigate an illegal monopoly for digitally distributed music. At the same time, they keep claiming that they lose vast amounts of money because of digital file-sharing, while EMI has actually has seen increased music sales. What is essentially happening is that the amount of sold CDs is declining, but not at the same rates as the sales of online music are increasing. However, the industry does not shy away from using the first-mentioned statistics in order to get what they demand. Maybe they should really think about how things really are and start listening to their own customers instead? In any way, they could take a look at CRIA, the Canadian equivalent of RIAA.
The CRIA is an organization whose future looks uncertain. What happened was that six Canadian record companies got tired of their organization caring more about the multinationals (Sony BMG, Universal etc.) than the local music industry, so these local companies simply left the organization. Moreover, CRIA has spun some very bad PR around itself through claims that turned out to be entirely false. For example, their own research showed that illegal downloading rather increased CD sales than decreased them, something the organization itself denies. Artists from these companies did then create their own organization, Canadian Music Creators Coalition. Included are for example Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan. This organization claims that DRM is wrong and that it is also wrong to sue the fans and supporters of artists. The question now is, whether this might happen to the RIAA as well. In order for this scenarion to come true, some huge worldwide stars need to break their contracts with the majors and exit the organization, something which does not seem plausible during the next years.
All awhile the development in Canada seems positive, there is reason for worrying about the Swedish situation. The country seems too much to strive towards the line of thinking that is present in the US, rather than the Canadian one. One does not need much introspection to suspect cartel-like price formation in Sweden, as well as doubts regarding how legitimate the methods of IFPI and STIM are. That the Antipiratbyrån (Anti Piracy Bureau) does not shun dodgy methods is already well known. As [Swedish rapper] Timbuktu says it:
“Please don't turn us into a mini America.”
As a follow-up, Fredrik further notes that there now are legal propositions out there that may make it illegal to stream mp3-formatted sound. Instead, the proposed standard is one with the most restricitve form of DRM imaginable. In one blow, this might force numerous web radio stations to close, since they would have to swap over to a format with significantly higher requirements in regards to equipment and investment costs. The podcasters / radio stations we see on iTunes would disappear as well, since Apple does not license the WMA or Real formats.
The other news story (via Engadget) is that Gary Shapiro, leader of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), has clearly preferred siding with private persons rather than the huge multinational media corporations. He is deeply critical of how the latter have managed to skew the terms by which copyrights is equated with actual physical goods, and how the large media corporations are allowed to control both the technical development and thereby stifle innovation.It would be interesting to follow the development of this since the CEA is an immensely huge organization which has the potential to stand a fight against the media corporations. It is doubtful whether they would win the fight when media corporations like Sony also are vital members of the CEA themselves, but there is hope that this will help forming opinion against restrictive legal propositions.

This posting was copied & translated from Crooked Moon. Kopimi!