Cyber Culture: A sad tale of divorce, two Rihanna songs and France's first digital-piracy conviction
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Thursday 20 September 2012
It's a question that's consumed copyright owners for more than a decade: "How do we punish the varmints who persist in downloading our material without paying for it?" Lobbying by media organisations has forced various governments to take measures to address the problem, but they tend to be laughably ineffective or, conversely, have human-rights implications. One of the best-known is the "three strikes and you're out" policy, first proclaimed by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008; after a third warning offenders are faced with a fine and disconnection from the internet, with the Hadopi agency formed to enforce the law.
So, how's Hadopi been doing? Well, the incoming French Culture Secretary, Aurélie Fillipetti, was reported last month to be unimpressed. With 60 officers battling copyright violation at a cost of some €12m per year, the agency has so far sent around 1.2 million emails to infringers. Just 340 of those contain the dreaded third warning, and only 14 cases have been referred to court.
The first conviction was secured last week; the guilty man was an artisan from Belfort named Alain Prevost whom the court accepted had never downloaded anything illegally in his life. His soon-to-be ex-wife admitted using his connection to download two Rihanna songs. But as M. Prevost's name was on the bill, he was liable for a fine of €150 (£121). "I did not install this download site," he said afterwards, betraying his lack of tech savvy.
Other countries, undaunted by this questionable French effort, have been implementing similar schemes. New Zealand's "three strikes" law, brought in about a year ago, has resulted in one final warning, later rescinded after the guilty party and his ISP talked things over. In June, Ofcom detailed the UK's "three strikes" policy which is due to begin operating by March 2014 following failed legal challenges by two ISPs, BT and TalkTalk. And in the US, a new body called the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) is to bring in a "six strikes" plan by the end of the year. Of course, the cost of implementing these schemes is phenomenal, and will inevitably be passed down to us all in higher taxes or increased broadband bills. Which you could argue is a price worth paying – if it worked.
But are conviction rates the way to assess the success of these laws? The head of the CCI, Jill Lesser, has stressed that she sees the US's "six strikes" as an educational measure; 75 per cent of French citizens who received their third warning from HADOPI contacted the agency to resolve the issue, and New Zealand has seen no prosecutions. Maybe the threats are actually helping some of us to wise up. But one thing is clear: while a chap from the Alsace now has a criminal record for unwittingly facilitating the download of two Rihanna songs he can't even name, media-hoarding geeks will continue to hoot smugly about the proxies, seedboxes and VPNs that allow them to download as many Rihanna songs as they like without detection.
These shoes were made for walking... and GPS navigation
When James Bond needs to be shod for upcoming film appearances, his people head to the town whose football team is still known as The Cobblers: Northampton. And when Sunderland-born designer Dominic Wilcox came up with an idea for some GPS-enabled shoes, Northampton was also his first port of call. In collaboration with Stamp Shoes, Wilcox has produced a pair of brogues that guide you home with a mere click of your heels; a bit like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, but with slightly more faffing around. And a USB cable.
The left shoe contains the GPS receiver in the sole, an antenna in a small bootstrap and a circle of LED lights on the upper, with a single illuminated light indicating the direction you should be heading in. The right shoe, which communicates with the left shoe wirelessly (thank goodness), has a row of lights indicating how far you are from your destination. Sure, it's a bit vague, but definitely more convenient than celestial navigation. If you happen to be in London, the shoes are being exhibited at the KK Outlet on Hoxton Square until next Wednesday, 26 September.
Why 'rest up' should be the motto of the Slow Web Movement
Having recently become mildly irritated by a word game I play on my phone that reminds me to play my next move at inopportune moments, I was delighted to stumble across a philosophical challenge to this kind of digital harassment. When American developer Walter Chen devised a productivity app called iDoneThis, he couldn't find a way to incorporate the ability to synchronise instantly across the web. So he decided to transform the failing into a feature. "Rest up," instructed the accompanying documentation, "and you'll find an updated calendar when you wake." In other words – don't worry, it'll all be fine tomorrow.
He called this the Slow Web Movement. This notion runs contrary to so many of our ideas about the internet – speed, efficiency, instant gratification – that it made me laugh out loud. An American writer, Jack Cheng, seized upon the idea and developed it over the course of a blog post; he suggests that the Slow Web should be about "Moderation, not excess; Timely, not real time; Knowledge, not information".
While reading, it occurred to me that so many of the internet's problems – conclusion jumping, Chinese whispers, the regularly baying Twitter mob – can be traced back to a failure to take a few deep breaths. I then had a wonderful daydream where the Slow Web Movement was adopted globally as a glorious new mantra. And then my phone beeped again, telling me to make my move in that blasted word game.
Ping, ponged – why Apple's social music network fell off the table
It's a difficult concept to take on board, but not everything Apple touches turns to gold. The end of this month will see the end of a misconceived foray into social networking by the world's most valuable company; the service was called Ping, and was announced by the late Steve Jobs almost exactly two years ago. "It's a social network," he gushed, "but it's all about music."
Incorporated into the already-bloated iTunes software, Ping's main drawback immediately became apparent: it wasn't so much about sharing music with friends as encouraging friends to buy the full versions of the 30-second excerpts we were permitted to share.
Crucially, competitors such as YouTube, Spotify and last.fm don't present those sharing moments as a sales opportunity, and we prefer it that way. As current Apple CEO Tim Cook (below) says: "I think the customer voted and said [Ping] isn't something I want to put a lot of energy into." Indeed not. The new iTunes software, due imminently, abandons Ping in favour of Facebook and its ready-made billion-strong user base. Which seems sensible – although who knows how many of those people will immediately resent being encouraged to part with 79p for some MP3 or other.
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