Mandy’s Law: Why it’s a Very Bad Thing

This post is created from discussions in Twitter with Dorian and others, about Peter Mandelson’s so-called “Digital Economy” bill, essentially a Big Media wishlist allegedly concocted on a yacht in Corfu at David Geffen’s expense.

Charlie Stross and Steve Lawson have expressed strong opinions on what it’s likely to mean for creative artists who aren’t megastars. Go and read what they’ve written.

Some people have dismiss concerns about this bill as pure hysteria and panicky scaremongering, suggesting that if you’re not a heavy download, you’ve nothing to fear. Yeah, they say that about ID cards as well. How many people still buy that one?

Mandy’s Law has the potential for enormous collateral damage. For starters, I have no confidence in their ability to distinguish between legal and illegal downloads without generating a great many false positives. While industry apologists claim they’re only going to target a small number of heavy downloaders I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if they used the same shotgun approach as they’ve used with DCMA takedown notices in the past. And I’m sure Blimpy can tell us all about DMCA takedown notices. After some rudimentary traffic analysis they’ll just assume everything that appears to be a music file but isn’t from some whitelist of industry-approved download sites must be an illegal download. And out will go potentially millions of nastygrams threatening disconnection.

Think I’m exaggerating? I work in the software industry, as a tester. I know all about bugs in complex software, which is more than can be said for a technological illiterate like Peter Mandelson.

It’s likely have a chilling effect on MP3 blogging, such as this very blog. MP3 blogging admittedly inhabits a legal grey area, but it’s absence surely will limit the exposure of new bands. The false positive risk may even discourage unsigned bands from giving away free downloads, for fear that fans may be disconnected because isn’t on some secret whitelist.

Of course, for the cartel of big media companies, that’s not even an unintended consequence – adding a lot of additional hassle for unsigned bands works very much in their favour.

It’s OK for industry shills to claim that this won’t happen, but I’m not willing to give sweeping powers to the music biz on a vague promise that they won’t be evil. Their past track record means they simply do not have my trust.

I also have a problem with the whole issue of collective punishment and guilty-unless-proved-innocent. The typical filesharer is a kid living with parents, or a perpetually-skint student in a shared house. The threat of collective punishment for entire households effectively conscripts everyone into being unwilling enforcers of an unpopular law. At the risk of breaking Godwin’s law, it’s the way the Nazis enforced order in occupied France in World War II. Hyperbole, maybe, but when you hear filesharing compared to terrorism…

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