In April the High Court ruled that Swedish file-sharing website, The Pirate Bay, must be blocked by UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This was a result of heavy lobbying by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and has meant internet censorship for all of us. If you try accessing the Pirate Bay today all you will get is “Website Blocked”.
To counter this, minor political group, Pirate Party UK (PPUK) launched a proxy server which allowed users to bypass the ISP block of the Pirate Bay. The new proxy was praised heavily, touting internet freedom for all. However, this proxy was not to be. Over the last few weeks elected members of PPUKs National Executive Committee, along with their head of IT, received letters from lawyers acting for the BPI threatening them with legal action.
Much legal advice and fundraising later PPUK has decided to shut down the Pirate Bay proxy. As a member of the party I find myself stoic to the email I received which read,
“Dear Member, …it is however with a heavy heard that I write to inform you that the proxy server which the Pirate Party UK initially provided in solidarity with other parties in Europe, but later as an anti-censorship resource for UK users, has now been removed and will stay down until either the law is changes or the orders against the ‘Big 6’ ISPs are removed.”
I never agreed with the Pirate Bay proxy and the whole media uproar surrounding the matter has made me embarrassed to be associated with the party. To think PPUK raised thousands fundraising the Pirate Bay proxy issue whilst hundreds of alternative proxies are available elsewhere.
What was the party thinking? Nuts. The party needs to re-consider their arguments and direction. This all starts with the notion of free speech.
Internet Censorship VS Free Speech
One of the biggest events in internet history happened early 2012 when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) protests took places. This saw major websites, such as Google, blackout their web services and dozens of more companies wrote letters to key members of the US Senate and House of Representatives saying that SOPA posed a serious risk to innovation and job creation, as well as cyber security.
Essentially SOPA would allow copyright holders to challenge the use of their content in any form on the internet. The outcome of which would certainly end file-sharing websites (such as the Pirate Bay) but could also close social networks due to their high use of shared material.
The enforcement of copyright would inevitably lead to the point of censorship. Something which would certainly end the organic growth of the internet, could lead to online policing and the death of social networks. Scary stuff.
SOPA raised some interesting debates which highlighted a linked but distinct difference between internet censorship and free speech. For ISPs to block the Pirate Bay was a matter of internet censorship but not free speech.
According to the Oxford Dictionary:
Free speech [noun] the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint: it violated the first-amendment guarantee of free speech.
As per this definition I do not believe the blocking of the Pirate Bay poses any risk to our free speech on the internet. It is true that continuous censorship could lead to sites that actively celebrate free speech, such as social networking websites, being blocked but it is an outcome which seems highly unlikely. Not even the BPI has enough power to block sites, such as Facebook, operating in the UK!
PPUK’s first principle in their manifesto states,
“Our society is built upon the sharing of knowledge, ideas and culture. It is furthered by freedom of thought and expression, and protected by the role of law. The Pirate Party exists to ensure the preservation and development of these foundations”.
I know that the Pirate Bay operates by giving users the platform to share files between each other – the majority of which is copyrighted. Anybody who clearly thinks anything other than this has not used P2P file-sharing before. Yes, this material is the outcome of knowledge, ideas and culture but is produced material by large media companies.
The UK is becoming a digital economy and cannot operate at full capacity with material being shared freely – sometimes censorship on the internet is required (although totally ineffective…). Individual users should not be accused of copyright infringement but the platforms which allow sharing should be seriously looked at.
Purchased or Public Domain?
Does a consumer first purchase content or is content made available first in the public domain? This is a chicken or egg argument that industry bodies such as the BPI need to consider seriously. Much content made available in the UK across file sharing websites can be downloaded before the ‘legal’ product hits the shelves. This happens for all sorts of reasons; release timings across different countries or beta versions of software before the full article.
Sharing content is the heart beat of the internet and the BPI needs to consider their marketing tactics rather than accuse file-sharing of the demise of their industry. Have they measured the positive effects of YouTube for artists? Popular artists such as Justin Bieber and Gangnam Style have all come to fame through YouTube.
Social networks helps makes musicians money and can certainly provide fame.
Back to the Proxy
I can understand why PPUK wanted to raise the Pirate Bay proxy; it’s an easy media stunt which provided a massive splash. However, the act also almost killed PPUK of all funds and was essentially pointless as plenty of other proxies already exist on the internet.
Instead PPUK should create lots of little media splashes; commenting on social networking developments and stories that deal with internet privacy. This media hijacking could see PPUKs media coverage to be far more positive and introduce plenty of new members to the party. The public needs to take the party seriously, as technological educators who exist to inform the old boys club of how the digital world works.
This is why when I saw the below confirmation from BPI I smiled.
“BPI has today received signed confirmations from Pirate Party UK executives that they will remove proxy access from their website to the illegal site The Pirate Bay,” they said. “BPI welcomes this development. Provided Pirate Party UK complies with the confirmations, no legal proceedings should be necessary.”
It’s time for PPUK to re-visit their media tactics and get some positive public sentiment on their side.