Telegraph Reporter Compares Illegal Downloading to Drunk Driving

Late last month, the UK High Court ordered ISPs in the UK to prevent users from accessing Swedish BitTorrent website ThePirateBay. While we covered the fact that just about any method that could possibly be used could be circumvented, one report from The Telegraph reporter compared downloading to drinking and driving.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

We here at ZeroPaid see a lot comments elsewhere. Today, we’d like to take the time to respond to comments made on British news website The Telegraph.

The author of this piece on the Telegraph decided to, while talking about the blocking of ThePirateBay, compare downloading material to that of drinking and driving. To be clear, the author didn’t compare the actions of the two, but rather, some perceived cultural similarities. To be more precise the comments said that people were drinking and driving before the ban on drinking and driving was in place. The author said that there was an outcry and complaints about infringement on people’s rights. The author perceives a similarity in downloading copyrighted material online where people are complaining about an infringement of our rights. The author then goes on to say that while there will always be people who will drink and drive, there will always be people who download, but most people will somehow magically smarten up and law and order will, for the most part be restored.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Just as some people still drink drive, some people will always be able to infringe copyright if they want to. The most ardent supporters of The Pirate Bay subscribe to its stated ideological mission to destroy copyright laws and have the technical skills to keep the Jolly Roger flying for as long as they like.

But the hope among film and record executives is that raising a barrier, even a porous one, will mean some people change their behaviour and switch to legal paid services. Some of the ways of circumventing blocking cost money themselves, after all.

Reasonable understanding of their position does not mean they do not deserve criticism for their approach to the internet. Licensing is still too complicated, the catalogues of legitimate services still do not match pirate websites and some some of their legal attacks on individuals have been outrageously vindictive.

But for now, whether it is symbolic or has a real impact on levels of piracy, and even if it will be circumvented, blocking The Pirate Bay is a victory for the men in suits.

Now, we here at ZeroPaid understand how comments like this can come about. One possibility was that news writers are pulled out of their field and told to write an article they knew little to nothing about. The results can be humorous and sad at the same time because it’s clear just how little the author really knows how things work on the internet world. We’re not saying necessarily that this is what happened here, but it can happen from time to time.

Having said that, the person who wrote this would definitely benefit from an explanation on how things work in the real world of the Internet.

First, people who are concerned about the blockage of ThePirateBay aren’t all hoping to “destroy copyright laws”. In fact, many are hoping to keep the Internet free from heavy-handed censorship. One source of concern is where does such a thing lead to? Lets presume that tens of thousands of pirate websites have been blocked already years down the road and companies are hoping to further crack down on the “evil” copyright infringers. One news website notes that another website finds a comment similar to their own on another news website like, oh, say, The Telegraph. Was it a founded concern? Doesn’t really matter in this case. Whether founded or not, that person decides to tell ISPs that this website called “The Telegraph” is infringing on peoples copyrighted material and must be blocked. Without any real due process thanks to so-called “streamlining” of the laws, the only thing The Telegraph knows is that their website is no longer accessible because of a complaint about copyright infringement. After weeks of trying to clear things up, one thing becomes immediately apparent, the company lost millions of dollars because of the blackout and they’ll never know who complained. The person that complained could just have the website re-blocked weeks later and the process starts all over again. This is the direction Britain is headed in and, no, it isn’t pretty. This isn’t the only worry, but it certainly is one of them.

Second, the hope of people seeing that this website being blocked and magically switching to legal services is probably about as blind one could get when talking about copyright infringement. How many websites are out there that are capable of infringing copyright? More than the author could even hope to realize. It’s the return of the game of cat and mouse where one website is blocked and another takes its place. How many websites could be blocked? Hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? We will never know. All we know is that the internet can play this game forever. Can the authorities?

For those who are more familiar with the Internet and copyright, you are probably noticing a similarity to the litigation campaigns in the US for the last decade or so. In fact, the similarities would be practically identical. When record labels started suing file-sharers, the hope was that the file-sharers will see the consequences of downloading copyrighted materials, cease their downloading and be back in the record store the following week, reforming their ways and becoming good citizens once again. Obviously, that never happened and people are still file-sharing. What will likely happen is what happened in the litigation campaign – that file-sharers will see a blockade or a threat and move to a more secure source for content and the “problem” of file-sharing never gets solved. The only thing that really happens is that enforcing copyright becomes substantially more difficult. Is this just some random guy just saying things that can’t be credible? Say what you like, but I would like to present to you peer reviewed scholarly journal evidence to back up what we are saying. I can find plenty of evidence of what I’ve personally observed, but I think material used by the best and the brightest in the world should be sufficient for now. Trust me, this blocking of ThePirateBay solves exactly nothing.

Thirdly, in reference to the comment “Reasonable understanding of their position does not mean they do not deserve criticism for their approach to the internet”, I would say that the accusations of censorship and short sightedness are well deserved. There’s a whole decade worth of evidence to suggest that this blockade will never work for reasons already stated above. If record labels were serious about opening new markets on the internet, it would never have been so complicated to license material online in the first place. In fact, we see rightsholders move in the opposite direction where EMI tears up its contract with GrooveShark and Hollywood trying to kill the golden Netflix goose by continually squeezing the life out of the service. These are not signs that the entertainment industry is embracing technology and opening itself up for business online. These are signs of the industry trying to roll back and make the Internet non-existent as they try and go back to an era before the Internet.

Finally, the comment about how this is a victory for the men in suits. I don’t think that it means what the author thinks it means. It is a victory for men in suits – lawyers to be precise. Who will lose out in all of this? Content creators like artists (Dan Bull for instance who has been rightfully an open critic of this), innovators who want to build the next great thing online (but worry that they’ll just get blocked like a pirate website), consumers (who now have one less avenue for music discovery), businesses (who hope that word of mouth thanks to help on the Internet will sell a work better), people concerned about security (as the Internet risks further fragmentation – just ask these Internet security experts) and society (who now have to work around the Great Firewall of Britain and what it could block next) to name a few. In short, lawyers may win, but everyone else loses.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the author of the article in the Telegraph could be better served doing a little research first before commenting on a matter as complex as this.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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