October 24, 2007

Unpaid police

Why should the ISPs have to take on an unpaid policing role? It is for government to arrange policing. Laws exist on copyright and patent, but they are not effectively policed by the public sector. I think the ISPs should be paid for checking and again for each infringement they find. Lawyers are also required to act as unpaid police. They must apply money laundering checks to their clients.
The UK government is increasingly making business carry the costs of policing laws. This effectively makes services and products more expensive and is yet another stealth tax. It also makes those products and services less affordable to the lower income members of society and so discriminates against them. However, in principle I like the shift of policing to the private sector, as they will doubtless do a better job of it than the public sector. So to make it work well and discriminate less against the economically poorer members of society, there need to be incentives to catch law breakers. The current approach is to penalise the unpaid enforcer for any failure. If there is some benefit to this kind of work then it should be reflected in compensation for doing it. Payment is also likely to encourage a better enforcement process. The well known carrot and stick approach!
Ultimately we must decide if policing laws should be funded by public taxation or fees applied to those who seek the protection afforded by them. Clearly some enforcement is for the good of us all, where some is only for the good of a few. I would suggest for example that enforcement of fraud laws be publically funded, where copyright of music be privately funded. The latter need not be mandatory, but non-payment = no protection.



  1. The problem that I see with this idea is that it is impossible, without some kind of notification from the copyright holder, for the ISP to distinguish between infringing and non-infringing use. Is that MP3 file a sample being legally downloaded and/or hosted by a user or is it an illegally shared file? They can’t tell.

    If ISPs are rewarded or punished for the infringing works they take down or miss, then ISPs could get overzealous and remove works that are either permitted for use or fall under an exception to copyright such as fair use/fair dealing.

    At some point the rightsholder has to get involved and, though I agree that ISPs should remove infringing works, they should only do so once notified.

    Also, if copyright enforcement were privately funded, that would only hurt smaller rightsholders. You couldn’t download that U2 CD bust steal my poetry and you’d be getting off scott free. I would have no means of enforcing it.

    Granted, most copyright enforcement, both in the US and UK is already privately funded in the form of civil suits, the case involving OINK is a rare exception, it would be frustrating if I had less enforcement rights simply because I didn’t make a lot of money off my work.

    Just a few thoughts, thank you for the great article and the interesting points to ponder!

    Comment by Jonathan Bailey — October 25, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  2. Hey Jonathan
    On your first point I have to agree about the difficulty of detection and the involvement needed from the rights owner. It seems intractable to completely automate detection. However, the problem is not as big as it might seem, let me explain. Rights holders could register items with an agent which then automates a match. Once a match is established the transfer end points could be tested against a ‘good list’ of registered legitimate endpoints. I suspect also that there a relatively few prolific rights infringers, so placing them on a ‘bad’ list would also speed up the process and the problem starts to look a lot smaller. Also once a new entry is added to the ‘bad’ list retrospective tests could be made for other rights holders work which will probably be of a similar nature. Any endpoint that is not in either in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ list, but has a large number of matching transactions has to be treated as suspicious. This again helps narrow the last stage of testing. The last stage would involve manual inspection of unregistered endpoints to determine which are infringements and which are legitimate. That could be deferred to the rights holder or agents they choose to employ specialising in their work. Programs could be developed to speed this last process up using specialist knowledge of the authors work. Granted this would involve some serious computing power and organisation, but it is possible. Over time, refining the techniques would reduce the amount of work and most people would probably be less inclined to do illegal downloading as they know they are likely to be detected. Is it worth doing the work? Someone would have to do the maths, but I suspect for the big rights owners it would and then the whole process would start to get cheaper an drag in more and more rights owners.

    On your other point about the expense. I think like insurance one has to except that the service comes at a cost and decide if it is worth it. Certainly it would be cost effective for some. I am not sure it seems fair to ask for this kind of work to be paid for out of general taxation as so few would benefit and those that benefit the most are probably among the more well healed members of society anyway.

    Thanks for reading

    Comment by conceptualizer — October 26, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  3. Though the system you describe is definitely appealing in that it would virually automate most copyright infringement resolution, it has more than a few issues that I think will keep it in the realm of fantasy.

    The first is that it would require copyright holders to submit not just all of their work, but also every single permitted use of their work to this organization. Tracking infirngements is bad, but this would be even more tedious.

    Second, there is no way to distinguish between fair use and illegal use automatically. If lawyers can’t stop fighting over what is or is not fair use, what chance does a algorithm have?

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it would require a tremendous shift in the way ISPs and the Internet are structured. It would raise severe privacy issues, with traffic coming to and fro being monitored, and require new centralized hubs in what is currently a relatively decentralized network. The cost would likely be in the billions, ISPs will never go for it and rightsholders will find it a bad deal.

    I’m as strong a supporter of copyright as anyone but I don’t think I could get behind this system. There are just too many issues with it.

    In regards to taxpayer funding, one has to realize that, already, only a very small amount of copyright enforcement is handled with taxpayer monies. I would say far less than a fraction of 1% of all copyright infringement cases are criminal in nature. Most are civil and are bought and paid for by the copyight holders filing suit.

    As far as only a few benefit, that really isn’t true. Pretty much everyone is a copyright holder these days, we all produce copyrighted works and we all have an interest in them. It may not always be a commercial one, but we definitely have an interest in our work.

    However, even if only a few did benefit, the framers of the U.S. constitution felt that it was important enough to put it in. The idea is that copyright protection increases the reward for creating new works and that benefits society as a whole.

    Where only a few of us published works in the years gone by, the Web has made millions into writers, photographers, musicians or artists.

    The argument would have made much more sense when the Statute of Anne was passed in 1710 to protect a handful of publishers. Today, things have drastically changed.

    Comment by Jonathan Bailey — October 26, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  4. Hello again Jonathan
    I don’t believe this problem is intractable, I think it just looks daunting at this point because no start has been made. Technologists are an inventive breed and I have confidence that given the right financial incentives a partial and continually improving system could be implemented. I am not saying it would be perfect, but that is not a good reason to not try.
    Perhaps a more interesting question is around the expectations of people to get reward for their work. Maybe we must get used to the idea that we should not expect financial reward for many things we do. In a way that seems more egalitarian and generous. I am sure that those that make a living from protected rights work will take issue with this (they were probably spitting venom as soon as they read my words) but like king Canute, attitude will not help them. I suppose that calligraphers were once in a similar position, the world moved on. Either, protected rights owners need to accept this change, or as I said provide financial incentive to the technologists to help them. Like the rights owners they do not want to work for free.
    Thanks again for reading

    Comment by conceptualizer — October 30, 2007 @ 9:29 am

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