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UK Government Pressuring Search Engines To Censor Results In Favor Of Copyright Industries

from the backroom-deals dept

One of the most insidious aspects of recent Internet policy-making is that much of it is taking place behind closed doors, with little or no consultation -- think of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and TPP. But there's another dangerous trend: the rise of "informal" agreements between the copyright industries and Internet service providers.

With the implicit threat that tough legislation will be brought in if voluntary agreements aren't drawn up promptly enough, governments are using this technique to avoid even the minimal scrutiny that consultations on proposed new laws would permit. This allows all kinds of bad ideas to be forced through without any evidence that they will help and without the chance for those affected to present their viewpoints.

James Firth has a disturbing post about a proposed "voluntary" scheme involving search engines in the UK:

We know laws such as the UK's Digital Economy Act and America's SOPA/PIPA met incredible resistance from the tech industry and internet users, and readers of this blog and Open Rights Group supporters are already aware the UK government has switched tack from legislating to encouraging agreements directly between service providers and copyright owners.

What we didn't know until now is the extent that the UK government and in particular Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, is pressurising search engines to police search results in a way that goes well beyond notice and take-down.

I'm told a consortium of search engines at a meeting on Tuesday were accused of a "retrograde step" after failing to make progress on a proposal by music rights holders for a system to promote "good" music resellers and demote "bad" in the search rankings.
What is being proposed is out-and-out censorship and doctoring of search engine results through the use of blacklists and whitelists:
The blacklist is of websites accused of infringement. These sites will never appear in search results. That's the whole site, not just the pages from the site with infringing content. And this is not a court process, it's a notification system allowing studios to tell search engines directly who the bad guys are.

A white-list of "approved" online music and film services will be artificially promoted for music/film oriented searches.
That is, absolute power over search engines' results in these areas would be handed to industries that hardly have a good track record for adopting a proportionate approach to tackling unauthorized downloads. In particular, they are unlikely to lose much sleep over all the legitimate content that will become invisible when sites of borderline legality are removed from search engines' results "just to be on the safe side." And there are no indications that there would be any oversight as to who goes on the lists, or any right of appeal -- making it a purely extra-judicial punishment.

The good news is that the search engines seem to be resisting this move -- for the moment. As Firth writes:

I'm told that whilst search engine providers are both keen to strictly abide by all national laws and also willing to work with content owners to provide easy-to-use notice and take-down systems (under the EU E-Commerce Directive and US DMCA), they are "drawing the line" at doctoring search results to suit one relatively small group of economic interests.
The whitelist is anyway problematic, since it might be seen as collusion in anti-competitive behavior, and incur the wrath of the European Commission. Worryingly, one other suggestion from the copyright industries seems to be more acceptable: cutting off the funding of sites in the same way that SOPA proposed.
On funding a meeting was held last Wednesday at the Department for Media, Culture and Sport between rights holders, and advertisers and payment service providers.

I'm told in that meeting a broad consensus was reached to create a blacklist of websites where no advertiser would be allowed to advertise or face expulsion from industry bodies such as the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).
But even that seems an extremely dangerous step to take because it raises important questions about who will draw up such a blacklist, on what criteria, and how will those placed on it be able to appeal.

That exposes one of the key problems with these "voluntary" agreements: those pushing for them have no interest in striking a balance, or in building in safeguards for those most affected -- it's all about getting a quick-and-dirty fix and to hell with the consequences. That's why legislation, with full consultation from all parties, is a far better way of proceeding. After all, it's why we have a legislative process with checks and balances in the first place -- to craft a solution that is both workable and fair. The new fashion for backroom agreements among a small group of unelected insiders is nothing less than an attack on that process, and hence on democracy itself.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 9:53am

    Who gets to make the lists? The people who put themselves on the whitelist and put on their competition on the blacklist?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 9:56am

    This is a slippery slope. Once you do it for copyright, "politically incorrect" sites will be right behind, followed by any site that does not uphold truth, justice, and the American way.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 9:59am

    Unless the government gets all the search engines to go along there will be no agreement. Having uncensored search results is too much of a competitive advantage. If all the existing engines go along then it is easy enough to start up a new company.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:07am

    Re:

    the internet is not a place for government to start saying oh you can and cannot have this and that....if that is the case there goes free speech and free enterprise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:12am

    If every person on TechDirt actively fought AGAINST piracy you could make some progress toward moving piracy off of the web. Fighting against those who are fighting against piracy isn't accomplishing ANYTHING.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    MPHinPgh (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:19am

    A simple solution?

    So, why don't the search engines simply agree to abide by the "wishes" of the studios and the governments. but explicitly state in the search results that is only presenting what the government allows them to present.

    Think about the sh*tstorm that would be created if you searched for a song or movie, and at the top of the result set it stated in nice, big, bold text "The U.K. Government, in cooperation with the MPAA and/or RIAA, have limited us to showing you the following results. There are other sites that asre pertinent to your query, but we are not allowed to show them to you."

    I seem to think that would draw a lot of attention to the issue.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:20am

    That is the most idiotic comment I have read here in a while. Moron

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:21am

    Comment meant for "If every person"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:24am

    Re:

    Well, they wrote the law that created the lists, they might as well write the lists too.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:26am

    Re:

    Wow that is obtuse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:30am

    Re:

    First you assume we don't fight piracy, say, by not infringing on copyrights (I know, it is hard for you to believe that not everybody on the internet isn't downloading). But, no, we will not actively fight piracy by advocating law that will benefit a small fraction of the economy (gatekeepers and middlemen) at the expense of our freedoms.

     

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  12.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:31am

    It's easy enough to get whitelisted: buy a sponsored link.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re:

    If multi-billion dollar industries and governments cannot fight against piracy then it should be super easy for a bunch of mouth-breathers living in their mother's basements to succeed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:34am

    Re:

    We are fighting piracy. Unfortunately, so far we've been unable to convince the troublemakers to give up their wicked ways and actually support the artists.
    Someday, they'll either give in and embrace sane business models, or go bankrupt. Until then, we'll just have to accept the piracy they create.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:36am

    Re: Re:

    (I know, it is hard for you to believe that not everybody on the internet isn't downloading)

    Oops! Double negative. Not intentional. =]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:44am

    Ed Vaizey is a sneaky piece of crap! it was him that announced about 3 days before the ruling to block TPB in the UK that website blocking was going to be expanded VERY SOON and certain people (Fergal Sharkey and his BPI cronies?) under the disputed DMCA. to me that shows how he is influencing the courts. what he is doing now is paving the way for out and out censorship in the UK! and i bet it's all to do with the 'Special Relationship' (total fear of!) between the UK and the US! Cameron is just as big a gutless arse hole as well, never thinking about the people only about his own personal agenda! that was shown when he wanted to ban using Blackberrys because of the London riots, taking away the right to communicate

     

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  17.  
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    Roger Lancefield, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:47am

    Re: Re: Re:

    > a bunch of mouth-breathers living in their mother's basements

    This hopeless cliché has about as much rhetorical force as a Daily Mail reader complaining that the issue du jour is "political correctness gone mad".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:56am

    websites accused of infringement.

    websites accused of infringement.

    websites accused of infringement.

    websites accused of infringement.

    No court order, no notification to the site, and no appeals process means no removal. Is it so much to ask for a little due process?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Rekrul, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:58am

    I wonder what would happen if all the search engines got together and blacklisted all the entertainment industry related web sites. After all, they're under no obligation to include sites in their results, right? If the corporations can demand that certain sites be blocked, the search engine can block other sites as well, can't they?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 10:59am

    Re:

    You also have the issue of totally open and uncensored distributed search engines. Which if used by a substantial portion of the internet would wipe out any chance of web censorship.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 11:10am

    Re:

    Lets create a petition for Google to do a week of no searching for big contents products. No music, news, movies, TV stations, etc.

    "We petition Google to remove all listings to any content owned by the following companies ... for the period of one week. Allowing only those links explicitly provided in advance by the content owners to appear in search terms. Proof of ownership required."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    MPHinPgh (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 11:30am

    Re: A simple solution?

    It would be nice if I could type...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 11:31am

    Re:

    Blah blah blah you deserve it because you're dirty pirates.

    Yadda yadda who cares if you are flayed alive and cooked the fact is someone downloaded a mp3 somewhere.

    Jabber jabber since someone has infringed at some point some unjustified law that was approved without the consent of those ruled, it is just fair that we make up any rules for punishing anyone that isn't even remotely linked to them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 11:57am

    But there's another dangerous trend: the rise of "informal" agreements between the copyright industries and Internet service providers.

    I warned you that you'd have been happier with the final negotiated version of SOPA then you will be with these agreements. The hysterics surrounding SOPA changed the battlefield forever. You already saw the six strikes policy put in place. You will see other industry agreements with content providers as companies like Google and Facebook expand their own content businesses. ICANN and other US internet ecosystem players will be increasing open to accommodate enforcement and voluntary action. Payment providers are already largely on-board. Just ask RapidGator who went out of business after PayPal cut them off. Foreign aid and will be leveraged against compliance and enforcement. And this is all largely a result of the anarchy over the SOPA debate. No putting that genie back in the bottle. So enjoy the fallout.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Re: A simple solution?

    Here's a better solution. Implement it so that the people requesting search results be altered are the one's that get the altered search results. Everyone else gets what they actually searched for. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:08pm

    stop trying to justify having SOPA or any other freedom diminishing piece of legislation. this underhanded behaviour was on going before that. trouble is, it was/is as bad as ACTA etc because it is not being discussed by all affected parties and threats are being used to bring things into play. the tory government and Cameron in particular are showing the true colors. but, as with all politicians, lying is part of the job. i doubt if the british people will wait the full 5 years before the next general election is called

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:08pm

    Re:

    BTW Would you like a little cheese with that whine?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    The eejit (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:09pm

    Re:

    You're talking about the 51st State of Soviet Amerika here!

    /s

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Boo Boo, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    Fuck Off

    Tell the content industry to fuck off and sort out their own business models.
    Hows that ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    MPHinPgh (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Fuck Off

    I thought that's what we had been doing. They just don't seem to be in a cooperative mood...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:19pm

    Re:

    Anarchy over the SOPA debate? There were periods of rampant lawlessness during the SOPA debate? Are you sure you're not conflating the democratic process where a constituent contacts the person elected to represent them and voices their opinion with anarchy?

    I think you may be forgetting that when the DMCA passed there was a dramatic upswing in the number of 'voluntary' agreements that were put in place afterward. The fact that SOPA's indemnification for ecosystem players acting as Big Content lapdogs wasn't made law is the reason there won't be a dramatic upswing in these kinds of agreements and it's the reason that if such agreements are put in place there is actually a chance they will be struck down in court as opposed to absolutely no chance what-so-ever under SOPA.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    If astroturfing corporate shills cannot convince perceived pirates that they're wrong (even though they have no proof that every Techdirt reader/commenter is a pirate), maybe insulting them will make a difference!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Re:

    I predict that it will be the Content Cartels who will ultimately wishing they had left well enough alone. They are motivating people that don't normally pay attention to political dealings to get involved in a very large way that could radically change the way the entire legislative system works in order to end their abuse of it. I agree the battlefield is changing rapidly however not in the way you think.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:33pm

    Re:

    Fighting against those who are fighting against piracy isn't accomplishing ANYTHING.


    Yes it is. It's helping to protect the assault on freedom, liberty & privacy coming from the major entertainment lobby. And before you misconstrue that, I'm not talking about "freedom to pirate."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Re:

    Consider the fact that such constitutional incites as due process, censorship and free speech are rights protected from government action. Corporations have no such duties so those components are removed from the discussion by default. The claptrap about breaking the internet will be hard to argue when those who control those functions are agreeing to do so.

    So what will you rail about, other than you don't like it? Congress washes its hands in the Holy Water because it is a lawful commercial agreement and can even decry it if they think it will get them votes. But don't expect a legislative response.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:36pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    *niceities* not incites

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:36pm

    Re:

    These agreements are far preferable to the likes of SOPA et al. Voluntary agreements can be changed or dropped at any time. It's much harder to change law.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Re:

    if such agreements are put in place there is actually a chance they will be struck down in court as opposed to absolutely no chance what-so-ever under SOPA.

    Like agreements blocking/filtering spam, malware, phishing, child porn, etc. have been struck down? Watch what happens when throttling takes place under the six strikes agreement. These companies have the right, if not duty to manage their networks. You are utterly delusional to believe a court will rule otherwise.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re:

    or ignored since they aren't law.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I was referring to the swell of communal attempts to draft legislation to address the corruption used by these corporate criminals. Sure many of these attempts will likely fail along the way but the need for them is now ever apparent to everyone and that will not go away. I predict that they will evolve until they are successful and effective. And the Content Cartels will eventually fall into the tar like the dinosaurs that they are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 12:53pm

    "That exposes one of the key problems with these "voluntary" agreements: those pushing for them have no interest in striking a balance, or in building in safeguards for those most affected "

    Do you ever stop being a piracy apologist?

    Do you think the current system is balanced, where the pirates and people who use content without permission are giving an equal stand with those who produce it or pay for the right to use it? Where is the balance there?

    Sorry Glyn, but you are becoming more and more transparent by the day. Do you run a pirate site by chance?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 1:12pm

    Re:

    The ones that DO uphold "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" will be the first to be "delisted".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 1:26pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Try ignoring your bandwidth being necked down from a fire hose to the size of a swizzle stick. Shouldn't take you more than a couple of days to download that Bluray.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 1:30pm

    Re:

    If every person on TechDirt actively fought AGAINST piracy you could make some progress toward moving piracy off of the web. Fighting against those who are fighting against piracy isn't accomplishing ANYTHING.

    Why would I want to spend my time, energy and money fighting against something I don't really care about? Piracy is not MY problem. If the rights holders want to waste their resources fighting against piracy, I say have at it.

    I have issues with the rights holders trying to use tax payer money in this fight. I have issues when this fight intrudes on my privacy. I have issues when this fight results in censorship. I have issues when this fight threatens the open internet and the free exchange of information. And I have issues when this fight results in collateral damage of innocent parties.

    Those are the things I will fight against.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Machin Shin (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 1:40pm

    Re:

    You even realize how stupid that sounds? Sense you obviously don't here let me put it into perspective for you.

    If everyone who supports the RIAA would fight FOR our rights you could make some progress toward moving censorship off of the web. Fighting against those who are fighting against censorship isn't accomplishing ANYTHING.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    Machin Shin (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 1:51pm

    Re:

    I love how arogent you guys are at least. You really think that filtering search results will really have a lasting effect? Come on, companies spend millions on trying to lock down their stuff with DRM only to have it cracked by some 12 year old.

    There are already peer-to-peer search engines and they will only become more powerful as people look to get around censorship. So what will these deals do? They will kill off any search engine who agrees to them.

    I fear it is you my friend who is trying to put the genie back in the bottle. The world has had a taste of what it is like to have instant access to information. Try as you like to stop it people will find a way. The only way to stop the spread of information now is to bring down the entire system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    Machin Shin (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    It will also not take long to see the protests change the mind of the companies that agree to that. I hate to break it to you but service providers have to keep their customers happy. If they don't keep end customer happy then they go out of business. So in the end the customers hold the power.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
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    Machin Shin (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 2:05pm

    Re:

    How about the balance between their right to protect their stuff and my right to use what I PAID for. You seem to want to pretend this junk only effects the "filthy pirates". Well guess what? All this DRM bullshit only AFFECTS PAYING CUSTOMERS. I know this because I have used both bought copies and downloaded copies of several products. The ones I download are EASIER to use.

    So what is the point of DRM then? It does not slow a pirate down AT ALL. Instead it makes it so that the bluray I BOUGHT will not play in my computer. Oh, and netflix also will not work on Linux BECAUSE OF DRM. So someone who tries to follow the law and consume content legally gets beat to death with this damn DRM while the pirates kick back and enjoy life.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 2:25pm

    Re:

    Exactly!When people start realizing on a massive scale where their government interests truly lie, how long before they start censoring unflatering posts, comments or heaven forbid whole sites under the guise of terrorism, hell, they'll do it for something minor, they'd like us to think that, like copyright, they ease us into it, and then use that foundation to truly take the internet by the balls, and turn it into a useless piece of crap !

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 3:19pm

    Re:

    Do you think the current system is balanced, where the pirates and people who use content without permission are giving an equal stand with those who produce it or pay for the right to use it? Where is the balance there?


    Ah, I see that you're thinking of "balance" in terms of copyright owners vs pirates. We're talking here about balance in terms of copyright owners vs the general public.

    I will not accept having copyright owners damage me, a nonpirate, in their quest to stem piracy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
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    Jan Bilek (profile), Mar 3rd, 2012 @ 3:42am

    Re: Re:

    Unfortunately I am afraid it's not that easy to implement a distributed search engine that would be fast and as easy to use as normal search engines, accessible without installing anything etc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
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    The Moondoggie, Mar 4th, 2012 @ 11:02pm

    Re: Re:

    *slaps forehead*

    MY GAWD! That explains everything!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2012 @ 10:56pm

    I could see this coming YEARS ago! This is about control of service delivery. Governments want business to control service delivery and they dont want you getting a better deal another way. That is against their interests. This has been brewing for a long time and is only going to get worse and spread to other countries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
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    Seegras (profile), Mar 6th, 2012 @ 2:20am

    Piracy

    "Software Piracy (‘soft-”wer ‘pI-r&-sE): Robbery of software on the high seas; the taking of software from others on the open sea by open violence; without lawful authority, and with intent to steal."

    Well, there is indeed a problem with piracy, and the IMB is fighting against it: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre

    However, if any fucking asshole comes along and compares illegal copying to a crime which every year takes dozens of lifes, then this is plain disrepspectful to the victims.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2012 @ 5:08pm

    The system is gone to coruption ,and is only going to get worse.We are at the point of no return ,Mostly because of greed and selfness.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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