Robert Hampton

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18th January 2012

SOPA Opera

Photo of "closed"Today was the day of the great protest against SOPA, the draconian law currently being debated by US lawmakers which would introduce harsh penalties for anyone sharing illegally copyrighted content online. The proposed law is strongly supported by most of the large media conglomerates (and Louise Mensch) who want to crack down on online piracy. However, critics claim that SOPA is a broad and far-reaching piece of legislation which will stifle innovation and individual freedom online.

We were promised a day of action, with high-profile web sites “going dark” for the day to draw attention to the chilling effect the proposed law would have on online free speech. Lots of big names were mentioned, but did they actually follow through? Well, yes and no.

Boing Boing and Reddit both did a full disappearing act, in both cases replacing their usual site with a holding page explaining the protest.

Screenshot of Wikipedia homepage showing blacked out screenWikipedia, at first glance, was also blacked out… but their blackout was a bit of Javascript trickery. Disable scripting (or go to the mobile site) and the information was still there, enabling savvier schoolchildren to continue cutting and pasting their GCSE coursework.

There was much excitement when Google announced they were joining the protest, but their “blackout” was little more than altering the Google logo on their homepage. Therefore, SOPA is at least as important to Google as the 110th anniversary of the Uganda Railway.

There was a rumour that Facebook would join in. They did post an anti-SOPA message, but the site itself is unaffected, to the relief of the millions who need to attend to Farmville and post photos of themselves drinking too much.

All things considered, today’s protest is a bit of a damp squid.

However, the lacklustre effort made by some today should not distract from the fact that SOPA is a real threat, not just in the US, but worldwide. Look at the case of Richard O’Dwyer, a British man who is fighting to prevent his extradition to the US to face copyright infringement charges, despite the UK authorities deciding not to pursue him. If SOPA passes, US officials could be knocking on doors of people all over the UK. Think about that next time you’re tempted to use a Katy Perry song as background music for that YouTube video of your cats.

18th March 2010

Copyrights, copywrongs
Posted by at 8.29pm | Web | No responses

One of YouTube’s lawyers has just put up an excellent blog post about the current legal battle with Viacom. For someone like me who is frustrated that he can’t watch Daily Show clips online, it’s an interesting read, especially this little nugget of information which I was not aware of:-

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately “roughed up” the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko’s to upload clips from computers that couldn’t be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users.

The smart course of action would have been to let the clips stay on the site and earn money from the ad revenue, as BBC Worldwide, The X Factor and others have done. Viacom instead spent what must have been a considerable amount building their own sites for clips from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. They’re very good sites (I assume, since they’ve blocked UK users from accessing the video), but by not being on YouTube they are missing out on potential eyeballs. How many extra views and ad dollars would Viacom get if a Daily Show clip popped up as a “related video” to someone’s Keyboard Cat mashup?

In general, I would love a sane attitude to copyright infringement by the Big Media companies. People uploading short clips of their favourite TV shows is not depriving anyone of any income. A 14-year-old girl who posts a two-minute video of herself lip-synching to the Sugababes should not be punished (except, maybe, for crimes against music). Lumping YouTube uploaders in with those who are torrenting gigabytes of stuff on a daily basis is a tactic that’s sure to backfire.

23rd September 2009

Free for all
Posted by at 10.47pm | It's My Life | No responses

In the last few weeks I’ve read about the outcry over punishing illegal filesharers; been asked for help setting up one of those DS addons that let you load up a memory card with pirated games; and heard people boasting about the “watch everything” Sky viewing card they got from a bloke in the pub.

I sometimes think I’m the only person left in the world who ever pays for anything. I feel like a chump, albeit one of high(ish) moral standing.