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Murdoch and the Internet

You got Murdoch! (image from independent.co.uk)

You got Murdoch! (image from independent.co.uk)

“So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery. Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.”

Rupert Murdoch, on Twitter

Some of you probably remember SOPA, the attempt to protect copyright owners from digital piracy. (For those that don’t: quick Wikipedia summary: “The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to combat online copyright infringement and online trafficking in counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the websites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the websites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.”) Like attempts to stamp out child pornography on the internet, or cyber bullying, it’s something that we should all get behind.

But, as they say, the devil is in the detail. (Or perhaps, it’s the devil who is behind it.) The problem with the legislation was that – in effect – it has the potential to become censorship by stealth. Rather than someone who felt their copyright was being infringed asking the provider to remove it before any action was taken, the bill gave the power to judges to block it immediately. In essence, it placed the onus on the website provider to monitor breaches of copyright, including links to other sites. In other words, under some interpretations of the act, a cut and paste containing links to other sites – like I just did from Wikipedia – places the onus on me to ensure that none of those other links contain breaches of copyright.

Naturally, some people argued that concern about its misuse is misguided, and well, like with the security services and rendition, “you can trust us, we’re American” – it will only be used to stop piracy – legitimate sites have nothing to worry about. (“If you’ve done nothing wrong, why are you worried?”) Others, like Google and Wikipedia, joined the conspiracists in protest actions that have prevented the Bill from becoming law.

Rupert on the other hand, argues that Google is complicit in the piracy. As he tweeted, “Just been to google search for mission impossible. Wow, several sites offering free links. I rest my case.”

So what’s Murdoch’s big problem with the Internet, and why am I bringing it up after all this time? Well, obviously, people pirating the products of Fox Studios undercuts his profits, and he has a legitimate concern with stopping the illegal reproduction of films and other media for which he owns the copyright. I can see that, and I’m sure that any reasonable government will see that. Australia, I’m sure, could be a world leader in this, just as we’ve been a world leader in seat belt legislation and the plain packaging of cigarettes.

And whereas once you’d need to travel to some market to get a dodgy copied VHS of “Fatal Attraction” or some such new release, these days, you can download from the Internet in minutes. Or seconds, once the NBN is installed in every home. Oh, that’s right. We don’t need those sort of download speeds. And the NBN is digging up asbestos – (it’s the NBN asbestos, not Telstra’s). Well, whatever, people can still undercut his profits illegally from their own homes. And Google is helping to aid these crooks.

Of course, when one is trying to put up a pay wall to ensure that people don’t get their news for free, it helps if you can block providers who are repeating the news that you have copyright on. Oh, that’s right, there isn’t a copyright on the news. Just individual articles, by particular writers.

And if Murdoch puts up paywalls for his newspapers and media sites, won’t that encourage people to be “misinformed”, because they may go to the ABC where they can see it for free.

I have an idea, let’s make it fairer by privatising the ABC!

 

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