At the UK's High Court, Justice Arnold made a decision that is not only stupid but dangerous. In the fight between the MPA and BT he ruled that Cleanfeed should be used to block the copyright infringing site Newzbin.
Cleanfeed is a technology designed to do one thing - prevent access to child abuse material (the effectiveness of it is another matter). But now it will also be used to block Newzbin (and you can be sure other sites will follow).
So why is the decision so utterly stupid?
The answer is actually reasonably simple: until now, the only people with a motive to circumvent Cleanfeed were those interested in accessing child abuse material. Now, Mr Arnold has ensured that a much wider audience have a reason to want to circumvent the filter.
Newzbin have already promised to 'break' Cleanfeed, to which BT responded "We would be appalled if any group were to try to sabotage this technology as it helps to protect the innocent from highly offensive and illegal content". What hasn't been realised yet is that every user wanting to access Newzbin will need to circumvent the filter in order to do so.
Before today, if a site stated "To bypass Cleanfeed ......." you could reliably say that they were supporting those who wish to view Child Porn. It is for this very reason that I have posted very little information regarding Cleanfeed to this site.
Now, that information will circulate quickly, as many users will be searching for the answer and circulating it to their friends. Thanks to this judgement anyone found searching for information could simply be attempting to access Newzbin, which is perfectly capable of hosting non-copyright infringing material as well.
So although I don't believe Cleanfeed to be particularly effective at preventing child abuse, Justice Arnold has now ensure that the information required to bypass the system will be more readily available to those with more nefarious desires than a dodgy MP3 or two
.As stated by the Open Rights Group
Website blocking is pointless and dangerous. These judgements won't work to stop infringement or boost creative industries. "And there are serious risks of legitimate content being blocked and service slowdown. If the goal is boosting creators' ability to make money from their work then we need to abandon these technologically naive measures, focus on genuine market reforms, and satisfy unmet consumer demand,"
Add to that the experiences of countries such as Australia and China and you will see exactly what the issue with any kind of broad scale censorship is. Who decides what can and cannot be blocked, and what happens when they hold a minority view?
I hold copyright on a wide range of media, and whilst I do expect to get paid if someone wants to use my work I don't consider it acceptable to force the censorship of the Internet to achieve that. At one time, home taping was 'killing' music and yet the media companies are still standing.
If consumers are trying to obtain your output through other channels, you need to look at what has driven them to that. Are you providing the convenience they desire, are you charging too much?
The current situation is untenable for many of the big players, but rather than evolving they seem intent on gaining legislative support.
Although groups such as the MPA continue to be a nuisance, they are not the biggest problem in this case
Governments, Courts and Judges
Our judiciary system exists to protect society by enforcing justice, just as our Government exists to (theoretically) enact the wishes of the populace. However, neither seem to be doing their jobs properly in this instance. The Digital Economy Act was an absolute farce, and should have been torn down before it was signed by the Queen.
But the naivety of Justice Arnold is absolutely unforgivable. How can beginning down the path to widespread censorship be in the interests of the populace? It may be just one site, but that's the starting point and is certainly not representative of where it will end.
To make things worse, the Government is currently considering whether it may be possible to block more sites. How long before we start emulating Australia's Cleanfeed and legitimate sites are blocked? Worse, how long until we start to emulate China and 'inconvenient' sites are blocked?
Censorship is a very very powerful tool, and it corrupts those with the power to wield it. It's one of those things that needs to be very tightly controlled, and it was until Justice Arnold decided to open the floodgates.
As metaphors seem to be fashionable at the moment: Look at the US Patent System before Software Patents were allowed, and look at the legal minefield that it is now. Do we want that level of chaos in any part of our legal system?
Today's decision only serves the big 'players' and at our cost. Does anyone really believe that if I applied to the court because a site was using one of my images my motion to censor would be granted? I don't.
More at the BBC, the filter won't be in place until at least October