ORGCon 2012: Communications Green Paper

UPDATE 2012-04-05 16:00 BST: I had my legislative proposals confused. Turns out there are two separate sets of measures being proposed at present. This session was on the forthcoming Communications Green Paper not the Communications Capabilities Development Programme. I’ve updated the post title and content accordingly. My thanks to the [org-discuss] mailing-list subscriber who pointed out my error. Sorry for the confusion.

This session was on the Communications Capabilities Development Programme Green Paper. At the time this was due to be published imminently however nobody had yet seen the details. The Government had held discussions with various stakeholders, though, and some information had begun to emerge – not all of it good!

On Sunday 1 April the Government released further details of their plans to the press (and our suspicions that they’re not good were confirmed!). I’ve posted a round-up of relevant links on my delicious account.

The panel consisted of Pete Bradwell (campaigner at the Open Rights Group), Jeff Lynn (chair of COADEC) and Theo Bertram (UK policy manager at Google UK). The session was chaired by Alec Muffett.

Theo Bertram’s introduction

Jeremy Hunt recently gave a speech in which he identified “four pillars” (presumably in the fight against illicit sharing of copyright material without a license): payment processes, advertising revenues, ISP blocking and removing sites from search indexes.

In addition rightsholders have proposed a search-engine code of conduct. There are three main areas with which Google has issues. These can be summarised by the phrase “legal sites first.”

Legal: The government thinks Google is the internet and is magical. They think that binary instructions can decide whether something is legal or illegal in a nanosecond. This whole language about “legal” and “illegal” websites is already worrying. There is only copying that infringes copyright and copying that does not. Even if Google can recognise copyrighted material it can’t tell whether a copy of a piece of content is licensed. In fact judges often find this a difficult determination to make. Google can’t be a judge.

Sites: at the moment Google removes URLs from its index if they contain infringing content. The DMCA means rightsholders can remove, in theory, every page from the net as long as every page contains infringing content. What the government wants is for Google to remove whole sites – not just pages. Necessarily this means they want to remove non-infringing content! If site-level blocking is required surely there must be judicial oversight?

First: rightsholders would like their sites to appear at the top of search results for terms associated with their content. They want Google to push the “good” sites up and the “bad” ones down. This just isn’t possible. Google can’t identify good and bad. Also, if we’d had only a small cabal of approved sites listed in search rankings four years ago, YouTube would never have made it up the rankings. There would never be a British iTunes. It would be totally anticompetitive. We would also never have another artist become successful by being spotted from a pool of unauthorised talent – successful acts could only come from within the club not without.

We need to pick our moment and be careful of crying wolf – if we say this is the next SOPA, and it turns out not to be, we’ll lose credibility.

Jeff Lynn’s introduction

I’m the chair of the coalition for a digital economy. We represent the tech city, silicon roundabout startups. We help to support conditions for the creation of the next big internet properties.

The UK is a great place to grow a business. Great things will happen here so long as the Government doesn’t stop them. The government must understand the conditions that are required for success.

The fact that we don’t have the green paper in front of us today is an encouraging and interesting sign. It’s been expected since December and it’s slipped a lot. It was supposed to come out alongside the budget but there’s a view that now the local elections are coming up we won’t see it until May. What seems to have happened is that the government has listened to a few prominent campaigners. They don’t want a SOPA like situation – which activists were threatening based on an early draft.

The mood two years ago was that the government wasn’t listening to us. The fact that Number 10 is now paying attention is encouraging however we haven’t won yet and we’re nowhere near winning the understanding of government or rightsholders.

Talent moves – if the UK gets it wrong business will move.

We’re happy with the current direction of travel but there’s still a long way to go.

Pete Bradwell’s introduction

ORG has been campaigning for about a year against the closed round-table discussions being chaired by DCMS. We’re concerned about the lack of open policy-making and evidence based policy.

The government is making choices behind closed doors that are effectively carving up digital power between private interests. Citizens and human rights lack representation in this policy-making process.

This situation risks conflating good policy with the needs of the private interests in the room. It’s also anticompetitive. It hands decisions about what we’re allowed to do online to business. It also risks endemic censorship, adding a hidden layer of for-profit power betweeen citizens and the state, undermining what’s so promising about the open potential of the net.

What sort of due process should be involved when rightsholders make an accusation? What redress do site owners have when their sites are blocked or if they’re told to take down content?

It’s critical to keep making arguments about why these loose and vague discussions, and these secret meetings, are bad.


  • The main issue is cooperation between ISPs and content industries. Google and other companies are already going in this direction. If there is no intent to profit then sharing shouldn’t be illegal. When will Google step up and say this?

    Content ID is softwhere on YouTube that automatically recognises that a piece of uploaded content is music or video and allows rightsholders to notify Google that this is their content and it should be taken down. It still follows the process laid down in law – it’s just more automated. Rightsholders don’t complain about YouTube any more because in some cases it makes them more money than iTunes!

    Key is for rightsholders to monetise distribution streams not stop them!

    Google supports all of the exceptions in Hargreaves.

    Tactics need to be considered – we’ve made lots of progress through level-headed and calm education. There’s not nearly as much opposition in government as COADEC expected. It’s a process of informing and explaining and reasoning with legislators. Ideological approaches don’t help our cause as much.

    Consumer focus have created the rights alliance to try to find middle ground between consumers and artists.

  • Judicial involvement is easy to demand however if nobody is nobody paid to defend the public interest in an aversarial hearing then not all the arguments will come out in court and decisions won’t be balanced. In Newzbin, BT have been penalised for pressing too hard against the case for blocking, and have been slapped with a large costs order. Is there not a case for a statutory tribunal rather than judiciary?

    One of the frustrations with not being involved in the discussions, which are closed, is that those sorts of perspectives can’t be expressed and considered by legislators.

    No assurances received that “streamlined process” != “kangaroo court”.

  • There is clear support for the idea that all non-commercial copying should be legal. Isn’t it the case that the vast majority of copying objected to by rightsholders is non-commercial? Surely this would be a thumping great exception rather than a small issue.

    Difference is whether it displaces consumer activity.

  • What can we and ORG do to ensure ORG is in the room when these decisions are made?

    Talk to MPs. Try to convince them that the things we’re saying aren’t anti-copyright or in Google’s pocket etc. Explain the truth.

    Continue to press the case that this needs to be evidence based, open and transparent. Ensure the whole process is transparent. We need to open up the process so that other people can contribute.

  • If a court decides that a URL links to tortuous or infringing material, do we think removing its URL is a proportionate response?

    Google already does this and it’s automatic. Applies by country on the appropriate services according to local laws. There is nothing magical about the Internet when it comes to Law. Concerns come when people say the Internet needs to be treated differently.

    Not a good idea in principal to solve a problem by reducing its visibility.

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