Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Dan Bull on Lily Allen: Unmissably Good

A Pirate broadside in German elections

Congratulations must go out to Piratenpartei - the German Pirate Party - for winning an impressive 2% of the national vote in the recent parliamentary elections. Set agains a showing of just 0.9% in this years EU elections this shows a strong rise in interest and awareness for Pirate issues and Pirate politics - free cultural exchange, copyright and patent reform, and respect for individual privacy.

Not yet enough for a seat at the table... but plenty enough for established parties to sit up and take notice. A clear mandate at the ballot box goes a long way to strengthen the message...


(As spotted at Michael Geist.  Also at more analysis at Torrent Freak)

Piratpartiet & The Pirate Party - Working for copyright reform

Lily Allen: Different views, different voices

Lily Allen has been vocal in pointing the finger at piracy and file sharing for times being tough for new artists... And she's had criticism for being a hypocrite in copying material to her blog without being clear that it's not her work.

...and now she has grabbed front page headlines by deciding to close her blog - citing too many abusive comments as a pricipal reason. I think it's a pity.

Shouting down the other side in the debate isn't winning the argument. Moreover, the role of non-commercial file sharing in the economics of the media industry is a matter of politics and economics. Unfounded personal attacks and name calling do nothing to take the debate forward and only serve to alienate.

Artists and songwriters have legitmate concerns over where the music industry is going. A channel to make their voice heard is a valuable contribution to the debate - and one that deserved to be met by reason, not rabble.

Piratpartiet & The Pirate Party -  Working for copyright reform

Cutting surveillance: Justice for Patriots

The EFF reports on the prospects of changes to the USAs Patriot Act and the broad reaching FISA Amendments that permit warrantless surveillance.  Proposals have been tabled for a new Justice Act that would curb and constrain the powers in the Patriot Act to provide better protection of individuals' civil liberties.

It's a change that's to be welcomed - not just because it is a good thing for Americans - but also because the US set the tone for what is legitimate and acceptable for a government to impose on it's people.

Of course tabling legislation isn't the same as having it adopted so we can hope that there are plenty of libertarian Americans taking up the EFF's suggestion to contact their Senator....

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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Right symptom, wrong diagnosis: Lily Allen on music piracy

Lily Allen has made the headlines talking about the impact of filesharing on the music industry - but while she recognises the symptoms she really is pointing to the wrong diagnosis...

(The original post has dropped off her blog.. but it's widely quoted - like here at the Times...)

In her blog in an article targetting the Featured Artist Coalition opposition to stricter measures against filesharers she complains that new musicians are finding times hard...

"The coalition also says that file sharing is good because it “means a new generation of fans for us”. This is great if you are a big artist at the back end of your career with albums to flog to a new audience, but emerging artists don’t have this luxury."
..and further on
"They (music executives)have been complacent about new technology and spent all the money on their own fat salaries, not industry development. As they start really to lose out from piracy, they’re not slashing their salaries, they’re cutting what they invest in A&R (artists & repertoire). A&R people won’t have the funds to take risks, which again makes British music Cowell puppets."

New artists struggling, artists with back catalogs doing nicely thank you, and record companies unwilling to take risks are precisely what you expect - not from piracy - but from the structural change that online digital music has made to the business.  New artists compete not just with their contemporaries but with every artist ever released.  Back catalog sales suck sales from new artists, and record companies get better returns selling old tracks than developing new talent. 

Lost sales to piracy are hypothetical...  (no one really thinks a teenager would cough up another $800 for all the downloaded tracks on their mp3 player do they? ) Competition from millions of back catalog tracks is  real and the key element that puts new music at risk. (Why total music sales are dropping is a different question for another post)

Two things are needed...
  • Musicians.  Stop expecting record companies to discover you and market you.  The internet gives you direct access to the public... 
  • Cut copyright terms. Hard.  The only thing that will persuade the industry to invest more in new talent is to take away the crutch of a fat back catalog and focus them on finding new music and artists to promote.  Copyright is supposed to promote creativity not stifle it....
 More on Why it doesn't pay to be a musician.

Piratpartiet & The Pirate Party -  Working for copyright reform

Privacy, what privacy? Spies on your desktop.

The EFF blog has a thought provoking piece on online tracking and how information on your surfing ends up in the hands of a wide range of players in what at best you could describe as a less than transparent process. There is quite clearly a whole industry that collects and correlates inforrmation to build up in depth dossiers on people.

Key points of concern are:
- The scale and scope of information gathering
- new 'super cookies' hidden from and out of the control of your browser
- lack of respect for users privacy, e.g. recreating cookies after they're deleted.
- Datamining social networks and analysing usage to identify you. (Violating your anonymity)

Monitoring and tracking your online activity amounts to electronic surveillance - it can lay bare your social and business networks, your interests, your political affiliations and your religiouus beliefs. Surveillance on this scale - actively, and with the intention to use the information - would be a gross abuse if it was run by the state... and to have this going on in unregulated private hands is simply scary.

The article gives tips on how to shield your privacy - but at the end concludes that it is extremely hard today to not be a victim of this systematic invasion of your privacy. The right to privacy needs to be protected - and that means this type of intrusion needs to be regulated with clear, easy and legally binding opt outs.

Piratpartiet and the Pirate Party - putting privacy first:

Monday, 21 September 2009

Piracy & Telecoms - taking the fight to Europe

I confess I've not seen it mentioned in the British press - but Swedish bloggers - at least the piratical ones - are all aware that the Telecom package is going for it's third round with negotiations between the elected parliament and the unelected council of ministers.

Amongst the things that's up for debate is the provisions of amendment 138 that would ensure that no-one can be disconnected from the internet without it first going to court. For some reason the council of ministers don't really want to sign up for this and have proposed an alternative wording -which leaves it open to each country to decide whether you get a judicial hearing in advance - or get to object after the event. The difference in wording is subtle but the difference in meaning is huge. Innocent until proven guilty becomes guilty until proven innocent...   which simply put, ain't good enough.

On top of that the provisions of the bill as is will permit ISPs to filter content and restrict users or traffic types - carving up net neutrality just as the FCC are laying out guidelines to protect it in the US.

Piratpartiet's MEP Christian Engström is among those joining the negotiations from the parliamentary side - It's great to see Christian in the thick of it so soon, working to keeping justice and integrity on the rails - and it's nice to know my vote went to a good home....  Just a bit of bugger that he needs to...

Links:  Christian Engström, HAX on the parliamentary delegates, ..and read the truly excellent analysis by Monica Horten of the University of Westminster, Communications and Media Research Institute (CAMRI)

On yer Bike: World Car Free Day

Welcome to World Car Free Day - September 22nd - which I hope you will be celebrating in the only way possible.....   leaving your car at home!  

Stockholm City is not officially joining those cities supporting the event but not all Stockholmers are so complacent...  The jazzy image above is borrowed from Klimax -  who are organising a car-free zone round Sergels Torg in the middle of Stockholm tomorrow (at 5pm) as part of their campaign for a fossil fuel free world.  

If you've not yet checked out the World Car Free Day site then jump here to sample a few interesting statistics on just why we need to be car free....

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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Blowing in the wind

After questioning whether Britain is a lost cause in the face of increasing surveillance and a hard handed approach to copyright enforcement, it seems that the wind of change is already in the air. Conservative MP Dominic Grieve has announced Tory party intentions for a range of measures to push back state surveillance. It has to be a move to be welcomed though there is some skepticism just how far reaching changes would be when the Tories have their hands on the reins of power.

There is an excellent article on the topic entitled 'Reasons to be Cheerful' over at Heresy Corner - who also links to this article in the Guardian on the rise of Libertarianism -  with poll figures that 79% think the state has too much of a say in their lives, and a scary report that in the UK 1 in 78 people had been subject to some kind of official eavesdropping last year.  It's not hard to think that change is already long overdue....

Take it away Ian.....

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Friday, 18 September 2009


CCTV cameras are a part of everyday life.... and in some cases you could argue they provide a deterrent effect on crime, and in some cases they can also be used after the even to help solve crime. But is the positive effect they can have really enough to justify millions of cameras recording your daily life? They are all over.. on the street, on buses and trains, in shops schools car parks... pretty much everywhere. They can be used to track your car - and pretty soon face recognition software will let them identify and track individuals (Actually I heard they already do for football matches).

Chris Mole has been looking at the facts - or lack of them - around CCTV surveillance in the UK.  (Which saves me the effort of going away and dragging out the facts!)

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Join the Mutiny

"We are a network of activists who have come together to create an exciting, safe space for discussion, critical theory and alternative media."

I just came across Join the Mutiny and thought I'd share it(them?) with you.  And if you are in London on the 24th you could do worse than check out their first event ...  "Money on Trial" -  films from Greenpeace and speakers from among others War on Want and the Pirate Party...

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Censoring unwelcome views?

Aftonbladet, a major Swedish newspaper, has announced that it won't carry advertising for Sverigedemokraterna, the Swedish equivalent to the right wing British National Party, at the next election.

Censorship is not the answer.. We cannot protect democracy by using the tools of repression. Please... think again...

Britain a lost cause...

Rick Falkvinge, leader of the Swedish Piratpartiet made a throw away comment on the state of affairs in Great Britain in a reply to a comment on his blog. "Det är kört". The race is run, it's finished... a lost cause.

The UK government continues to push the boundaries for state surveillance at the cost of individuals privacy, and the chance to reform copyright to meet the needs of the digital age is being squandered in legislating to defend outmoded ideas on how culture should be created, distributed and shared. Big business has the ear of the government, and Big Brother is alive and well in the corridors of Westminister.

But government is not the people. The number of people filesharing shows that there are many people that don't share establishment views on copyright, and privacy issues are a genuine concern for many.. Topics like the introduction of identity cards, and repeated incidents of loss of private data on millions of people have created an awareness that privacy matters and that blanket surveillance is not a good thing.

It's the people's job to watch the government, not the other way round... though governments it seems have a habit of forgetting that. Our best service is to continue to raise the awareness of the issues and make people aware of where the country is heading - and just as importantly that there are alternatives - that we can build an open, trusting creative society fit for the twenty-first century.

Awareness comes from the press, from advocacy groups like the excellent  Open Rights Group, from industry, - and now of course from The Pirate Party.  Britain is not lost.. just in dire need of a new map and a new direction....

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

On the buses - making life easy

One of the biggest arguments for using the car is "It's so convenient"... or by corollary - public transport is so inconvenient.

One of my long term bugbears with public transport is the lack of information at bus-stops. You're standing at a bus-stop and the bus doesn't come. Is it cancelled - or just late. Do I have to wait a minute - or twenty. Having reliable information goes a long way to making the system attractive to use.

Here in Stockholm they have recently updated a lot of bus-stops with the sort of signs you see at train stations - giving due times for the next two or three buses due. A good step forward - but it is still only when the timetable says it should come... not when they will actually turn up.

So, I was interested to find a new service on SLs mobile page mobil.sl.se giving realtime information. It's great - particularly now I have bookmarks for searches on all my regular stops.   I can sit at home, or in the office and know that there is a bus - and I have four minutes to make the stop...  not three... and not fifteen.

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Friday, 11 September 2009

Three cheers for the postman

As an individual it's sometimes easy to think that doing my bit to cut waste and energy is irrelevant. It's so small, why should I bother? The simple fact is that if we share the responsibility and each make a contribution our collective effort is significant.

There is though a big chunk of our lives that we only have a limited control over - and that's what business does on our behalf. Shops, offices and fleets of lorries all busily burning energy to bring us the goods and services we use every day. These businesses polllute on our behalf a situation we have limited control over. We can make some choices but many parts of the social and commercial infrastructure we have no control over.

That's why it is great to read yesteray's news that the Royal Mail have signed up to the UK Governments 10:10 challenge - cutting emissions 10% in 2010. Any organisation that uses 35 million litres of diesel a year clearly has a lot of scope for improving it's environmental footprint - helping it's customers to a cleaner world, and no doubt saving themselves some money in the process.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Do you want Privacy or Copyright?

The ever resourceful Cory Doctorow has posted excerpts from the Calgary Herald that highlight the fundamental conflict between copyright and the right to privacy.
"...current copyright laws are completely unenforceable unless the government or industry groups start to read every e-mail and analyze every form of online communication done by citizens... "

Which begs the question - which do you think is more important?

More on this interesting article over at Boing Boing - or here at the Calgary Herald.

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Surveillance & censorship...

What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.
- Aristotle

Monday, 7 September 2009

Pirating statistics

The UK government has made much of the impact of piracy on the uk economy - and the scale of the 'problem.' Seven million people are engaged in piracy and they are costing a virtual fortune. (Virtual for as everyone knows one download does not equal one lost sale).

But seven million people?

BBC Radio Four's More or Less programme has been looking into the claim. What they find is reported here... but to cut a long story short, depending on what assumptions you make that 7 million could just as well be 3.9million.

Does that make a difference? Well - it means the government have a good head start on their target to cut piracy 70% for one thing ;-) ... but.... 3,9 million is still a pretty big number.
What does it mean exactly?

If you think of the UK population of 61.4 million it starts to sound like a small slice of society. But think again... there are only 26million households in the UK.. and in 2008 (when the estimate was made) only 16million households had internet access. That's around one pirate for every four households....... (which doesn't quite mean one in four households has a pirate).

Even without seven million to talk about you start to see what a broad slice of the population it is that doesn't accept the establishment view of copyright. And when we start to talk about cutting people off from the internet how many families are potentially affected by that policy.

You could also ponder how many families sit down on a Frday night to watch a film that little Darren has just downloaded... Now how many pirates have you got?!?

The PPUK Facebook group has now passed 6 000 members and continues to grow...

Piratpartiet now has over 50 000 members and is the third largest political party in Sweden.

While in Germany, where there are soon to be new elections, 38.8% of students support Piratpartei - double the support of any of the mainstream parties.

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Drax black and Oxford blue. Coal on the agenda

Sometimes it's not what you look at but how you look at it that's important...

Climate Feedback reports an interview with Oxford economist Dieter Helm, the salient point of which is that in tackling climate change it's not comparatively small investments in renewables that will make a difference (and certainly not improving things at home by shipping manufacturing abroad!) - it's what to do about the BIG pollution that comes from other sources - most notably coal.

Coal is cheap and often readily available (in a fairly low tech sort of way). If you need energy and have big coal reserves you are going to burn them. As Dieter puts it "It's time to realize that coal is where the core of the problem lies, and to think cleverly about solutions towards that.".

By coincidence this week the courts sentenced the protesters that in June set out to highlight the environmental issues with burning coal by hijacking a train on its way to Drax powerstation - the UK's largest coal powered power station. Sentences were fairly lenient - but it still seemed to me to be a little surreal - had the protesters parked a few dozen tractors on a motorway protesting about farm subsidies, or parked fishing boats at a dock gate, or oil tankers at a terminal gate then the economic consequences would be as great - but it would probably be seen as lawful protest, not criminal activity. Wouldn't it? And at the end of the day the message they wanted to put across matters.

The point is that they are both right. Burning coal is a BIG long term issue. Coal fired power stations continue to be built and they will be in service for decades. Investing in polluting technologies is not the answer - not at home... nor in the farthest Orient.

Factoid: Power generation in Yorkshire & Humberside (including Drax) is 58% of the regions emissions and accounts for almost 7.5% of total UK emissions (2005). This is more than four times the impact of the total road and air transport in the region.

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Sunday, 6 September 2009

Democracy & the Internet

Democracy and liberty are things we take for granted... take a moment to watch this clip from PPUK and think about what's at stake as governments seek to control who does what on the net. Protecting net neutrality protects our democracy.

Privacy first: The Pirate Party and Piratpartiet working to protect your rights on the net.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Innovation, Freedom, Telecom

The Greens and Piratpartiet are hosting a seminar at the EU under the title "Telecoms Package – Preparing for a 3rd reading". This is coming EU legislation which has consequences for both net neutrality and privacy on the Internet.

More details on the seminar here...

7th September, 14:00 to 18:00 CET (an hour ahead of the UK).

The seminar will be streamed live on the Internet so there's no excuse not to get informed. This important legislation will have consequences for all of us.

Be informed and MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD....

Voice on the Net
La Quadrature du Net

Why it doesn't pay to be a musician.

Back before the summer... well, my holiday at least... I watched the debate on Internet Filesharing on Al Jazeera between Christian Engström (Piratpartiets MEP) and Richard Gibbs, an American composer supporting artists rights.

Watching the debate about the impact of filesharing on the music industry I was struck that really the whole subject is missing the point. Filesharing isn't why it's hard for artists to make a living...

I was reminded of it again tonight reading the comments on the Guardian article linked in my last piece. Someone there opined that we will look back on the last 50 years as the golden age for popular music. And the thing is, they could be right.....

There are some fundamental facts about recorded music that mean that it will be increasingly hard to make a living out of recordings.... which boil down to that old favourite, supply and demand.

There are today millions of recorded tunes. Each year there are tens of thousands of new ones. The costs of creating a recording are dropping. The rate of new recordings are increasing. Recordings don't go away.

What does this mean? Supply is BIG.... and growing. The number of artists competing for income grows and grows - and even if an artist retires their recordings are still there competing for the customer's attention. Consumers on the other hand don't have endless pockets - there's only so much they are going to spend on recorded music.

And you want to release a record and make it big? That's really not a healthy market to be trying to take your share of..... not least since oversupply will inevitably lead to lower prices.

Now... if you sell cars you get rid of last years' model when you start selling your new one. As we see though that doesn't really happen in the music business. Not any more at least. Record labels have had a grip on distribution and production and previously have been able to restrict the artists reaching the market by not making new pressings of their back catalogs. This makes a natural restriction on the range of artists in the market at any time. But that has all changed. Digital techniques mean back catalogs are now just as accessible and marketable as the latest artists.

Ten years ago an artist's recordings competed with all the other music that was in current release. Today you have to compete with every record that has ever been released. Doesn't that sound like things are much tougher than they used to be? For the artists...

How do things look over at the record company?

Well.... if we look at all that music you can reckon that `BIG slice of consumer spending is going to go on old recordings... simply because there are so many of them. So, if you are sitting on a big back catalog this is great news... a bigger catalog translates to a bigger market share and more revenues. No new recording costs and very little investment needed in promotion and marketing.. Is it a surprise that they have lobbied so hard for copyright extensions?

Making back catalogs available does though have consequences even if you run a recording company. If releasing older tracks takes a bigger share of the market - which seems intuitive, but I've not yet tried checking in the figures - then new recordings are fighting for a smaller share of the pie. Returns for record companies are lower and risks are higher - and that too is not good news for artists looking to hook a contract (if you need to these days?).

So.... don't give up the day job.

Green Electric. Make the right choice

Somewhere deep down in my mailbox I found a newsletter from Greenpeace with a link to a nifty comparison table on how green is your electricity supplier.... alway assuming that you're living in Sweden.

And if you're not in Sweden? Check it out anyway to get an idea of how your electric supply could be. (The figure on the left i the percentage of electricity suced from renewables fom that supplier).

Enlightening are the figures for Eon. In Sweden they report around 73% of electricity is from renewables... but for Eon international the figure shrinks to just 9%.

The sad part is that it's that last figure that represents the norm in much of the rest of the world. Go check it out and make the change!

Friday, 4 September 2009

The light dawns. Artists speak out.

There's a really interesting piece in the Guardian today that's picked up by both HAX and Michael Geist. It covers vocal opposition by artists groups in the UK to recent government proposals to retable 'three strikes' and internet bans for persistent filesharers.

The article is interesting on a number of levels...

Firstly it's welcome to see artists coming down on the side of their public and opposing the demonising of non-commercial sharing - and the equally welcome conclusion that sterner legislation is not the answer.

Secondly, it highlights the changing balance of power between artists and distributors (the record companies) which it attributes to the falling value of recorded music - You could see it another way too... with reproduction and distribution on the Internet being so cheap (free...?) the value of a distributor disappears - not just the value of the product.

Thirdly, it highlights evidence that tour revenues are up significantly - showing that there is healthy interest in seeing live music and real sources of income for bands in doing what musicians do - make music.

The recording industry meanwhile are cast in their traditional role.... in full support of the government proposals... while trying to lock in their artists to '360 degree' deals to take their slice of artists income from tours and other promotions. No one likes losing control.....

Last but not least of course, its great to see the insights of the mainstream press beginning to see the music industry in the same light as The Pirate Party and Piratpartiet. The internet makes it all but free to distribute all forms of 'digital' culture. Businesses need to adapt to that new reality. You can't put the genie back in the bottle - and legislating to protect outmoded ways of doing business is not the answer - not least when it means private policing and infringing peoples rights to privacy in the process.

Who wins by restricting choice?

I was thinking..... A dangerous habit, but it happens from time to time. ...Thinking about online music, and 'personalised radio' in particular. That's sites that stream music to you based on the sort of music you like . It was prompted by a piece at the Digital Audio Insider on revenues from Lastfm - an interesting artists eye view of getting paid for putting music online.

Now on sites like Lastfm royalties get paid for each streamed play... Which means that if I like an artist it's in their interests that I can choose to play just that artist, and in the songwriters interests that I can play just that song. But what happens in practice is that what I get is a different artist playing a different song.. And the revenue I might have generated for an artist I like goes instead to someone I never really asked to listen to.

So who wins by not letting me choose?

Answers on a postcard please

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

We know where you are....

As I sat on the bus this morning I noticed a little sign telling me the bus has video cameras recording "for my safety". I am being watched. we are.. Pretty much all the time. The phone company knows where my phone is... My credit card says where I spent money, and a thousand cameras are waiting for a bite of my day.

But what can we do? Serendipity provided at least part of the answer in the form of a really informative piece from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Locational Privacy. which discussed among other things how we can have position related services without actually revealing our position. A neat trick.

We know where you are... But not who you are. ..A kind of cryptographc equiivalent to Heisenbergs uncertainty principle.