UK Government Censors Copyright Consultation Submission About How Awful Collection Societies Are

from the the-wrong-kind-of-evidence dept

When the UK Hargreaves Review of intellectual monopolies in the digital age came out last year, Techdirt noted that one of its innovations was an emphasis on basing policy on evidence. The fact that this was even notable shows how parlous the state of policy-making has become. One important way to gather evidence is through public consultations, and in the wake of the Hargreaves Review, the UK government conducted a major exercise in gathering views and information in this field.

The responses to that consultation have now been published — all 471 of them. That’s a surprisingly high number for what was once an arcane area of interest only to a few lawyers, and a measure of just how important the subject has become. On that Web page there’s the following slightly unusual statement:

in the course of reviewing the responses received, it became clear that a small number of respondents had advanced criticisms or inappropriately criticised the activities of others in the sector. The Government has now carefully reviewed the submissions to establish any potentially defamatory material and has redacted any inappropriate or defamatory comments.

One of the people whose submissions were redacted is Andrew Norton. He’s written a fascinating blog post detailing what exactly was taken out. The first and biggest redaction occurs in his answer to the following question:

What aspects of the current collective licensing system work well for users and rights holders and what are the areas for improvement? Please give reasons for your answers

Here’s what the UK government published of Norton’s response:

Almost no aspects work well for users or rights holders. The standard operating system for collecting societies is to demand all, demand often. There have been many cases in the recent past where agencies have gone above and beyond their mandate, and targeted people in shakedowns.


In short, what aspects work well? None. What needs to be done? First of all, an audit needs doing, to ensure compliance with the law. Then, shut them down. At the very least start a new, independent one with significant oversight, because this one just DOES NOT WORK.

So what exactly did the UK government think was “inappropriate or defamatory”? This, apparently:

… and targeted people in shakedowns.

In the past few years, there have been reports of UK Collection societies calling up small businesses, and threatening them if they hear music in the background (, carollers, charities ( have been targeted for fees, as have schools ( Even people who sing to themselves have been targeted because they’re doing so at work ( and let’s not forget their targeting of employers like Kwik Fit ( and even the police ( Incidentally, The EU Court of Justice just ruled that in cases like these, there are no fees to pay (

That’s just one of three such paragraphs, all linking to external sites. As you may have noticed, the first link above is to Techdirt, and the others are to sites like the BBC, El Pais, Die Welt and TorrentFreak. None of them is defamatory, since they are all reporting on established facts. This means that the UK government must think that these facts are somehow “inappropriate”. That’s a pretty extraordinary state of affairs. The UK government has taken it upon itself to hide what UK collection societies get up to, in an absolutely key consultation, one of whose purposes is surely to get the facts about what’s happening in this sector.

What makes this censorship of linked information even more striking is that alongside the main consultation document itself (pdf) the UK government also published guidance on providing “open and transparent evidence” (pdf), where we read:

When you draw on other work, a reference, and link to the original work should be included. References to other people’s work should have the relevant web link

That is, the guidelines specifically ask for precisely the kind of scrupulous linking to sources that Norton provided, and yet the UK government censored them all because it didn’t like the unequivocally dire situation they delineated.

This does not augur well for the results of the consultation. It suggests that the UK government is happy to gloss over one of the key failings of the present copyright system — the UK collection societies — and is seeking to present a very partial view of the real situation. It also undermines confidence in the whole consultation process: if the UK government has arbitrarily redacted true information that it finds inconvenient once, what’s to say it hasn’t done so multiple times elsewhere? If people aren’t allowed to provide all the evidence what’s the point of conducting a consultation in the first place?

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Comments on “UK Government Censors Copyright Consultation Submission About How Awful Collection Societies Are”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Like most governments the UK’s knows which side its bread is buttered on. How do you think they receive their bonuses if not for collection societies bravely lurking amongst the pirate scum of society so they can pounce on (gasp!) horses listening to free music, or people humming to themselves? The tragedy! Pirate Glyn won’t debate me on all this because I can ad hom him any time I want. Chubby little pirate chicken.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Could still be defamation.

According to wiki, kind of.

If you follow that description of justification than “established fact” as in other people have said the same thing is not the same as fact. You have to prove the allegation, proving most people seem to believe the allegation is true or that you are just parroting a widely believed allegation is not enough.

DogBreath says:

Re: Actions are defamatory?

That was so they could dismiss any arguments not in favor as baseless.

Public Quote: “Sure, you argued against collection societies, but where are your facts to back up your assertions?”

Private Quote (that the public will never hear): “Oh, that’s right, we censored your evidence out of the published articles to make you look like mouth breathing fools.”

It was their plan from the beginning.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The responses to that consultation have now been published — all 471 of them. That’s a surprisingly high number for what was once an arcane area of interest only to a few lawyers, and a measure of just how important the subject has become”

Actually, I would say this is more a result of “sky is falling” crap from this site and others, which has lead to a group of people with nothing better to do filing questions about things that they never use.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re:

Actually, I would say this is more a result of “peoples eyes finally opening to the world around them about the rights they are losing to corporate interests”, from this site and others. It has lead to a group of people with morals and integrity filing questions about things (rights) they and others use everyday, and who now have a pretty good idea that those same things (rights) are being “legislated” away to the highest bidder.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I and a large number of my friends are active in the music scene. Some in bands, some as promoters other who run labels and venues. The issues with collection societies, copyright and everything else are vastly more important to this group in this day and age then it ever has been before.

We actually now how grounds to operate outside of the walled garden tended by the gatekeepers in ways that can make us just as successful as those with in. So we have to understand our rights and we have to be able to argue correctly for changes that support and protect those rights and against the changes that legacy industry wants to see which is mostly aimed at retaining a monopoly and business model that no longer make sense.

When, as “that sky is rising crap” points out, there are more people than ever making more music and more money than ever the number of people who these issues effect and who need to have a educated voice in the debates is bigger than ever.

This is before we even start to consider that the laws the legacy industries are lobbying so hard to put in place spill over greatly from simply an issue that effects the creative industries. We are seeing laws being created to “protect content creators” that are treating the very basic structure of a free and open internet and that effects EVERYONE.

I have and will keep arguing that the defining act of our age will be if we keep the internet free and open or let it be restricted and censored. I don’t think there are many such debates who’s outcome will have such wide reaching effects. To me it is going to be the single biggest indicator of if our future is going to be a good or a bad one. Having a free and open internet will, in my view and that of many others, have a positive effect on almost every other major issue we face as a society. I strongly believe that open debate, open information and education are the keys to gaining positive out comes in everything from the fight against racism to solving or at lest dealing with problems like global warming.

In other words everybody and everything is in line to be effected by a small group of people who seem to be willing to burn the place down rather than face having to adapt to a world in which they are no longer as important as they were. It’s in the best interests of everybody to be informed and aware of the battles going on over IP laws because how those laws effect the internet could have very dire outcomes.

We are told that we have entered the information age and it’s with in the creative industries that we are having the first fight over what that actually means to us as society and how we are going to change our laws to face it.

anon says:


easily resolved , resubmit with the offending word removed, they cannot ignore it then. Or write a small piece explaining two or three instances where the collection agencies have taken advantage of there copyright monopoly, and advising that there are many more instances available.

I disagree with the government but in all honesty to get them to look at the real problems we are going to have to bombard them with facts that they do not like, letting them know we are all onto the problems that they wish to ignore.

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sorry, perhaps you’d like my book ( book 2 will be out by years end, and 3 more books working on) or perhaps you’d like to see the TV shows I worked on (you can see me in an episode of Spaced, a few seasons of BBC’s Robot Wars, and 3 seasons of Comedy Central’s BattleBots (oh, and the ‘thing’ that kinda started Mythbusters). I’ve got a patent somewhere too, and what got me started in *this* field was working as a copyright enforcer for a UK record company.

Freetard be THY name, not mine.

Anonymous Coward says:

this is no different to the practice carried out by ALL governments now, whether in supposed democratic countries or not. anything that can be construed as the people being left out, is left out. anything that is of benefit to the governments, the entertainment industries and the collection agencies is left in. the Hargreaves report was a complete farce, done just to make it appear that the UK government was doing the ‘right thing and actually gave a fuck’ about the people. it has a good deal of common sense suggestions in it but will be ignored, simply because it will inconvenience the entertainment industries and make them work for their money.

John says:

When I was in Spain, a tour promoter told me about the aggressive tactics used by SGAE the spnaish collection society there (who I think have now all been arrested).

They would turn up to gigs with thugs to demand 10% of the ticket sales to ‘help’ the artist actually performing on stage. Of course, none of that money ever got back to the artist they were ‘helping’ that day. It was a total protection racket. Concert promoters were actually physically scared of them!

Dave (profile) says:

Money--Who Gets Da Money????

The only reason I can see for this sort of activity is somebody getting paid, or, more likely, being afraid their cash-cow will dry up. Best answer: remove them from the equation entirely.

Most GOOD artists, of all stripes, seem to do quite well for themselves WITHOUT the “benefit” of the gatekeepers, so let’s eliminate the gatekeepers. They’re redundant and useless.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Has His Blog Been Slashdotted?

Here is what I see when I try following the link:

Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network. Please try your request again later. Why did this happen?

IP address:
Time: 2012-08-02T03:52:10Z

Andrew Norton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Has His Blog Been Slashdotted?

It seems to be. I can access the backend, but the frontend gives that for everyone.

And I’ve been actually slashdotted before, getting 2-3000 in an hour or so, this happened after 250 hits across 4 hours.

Alas, it’s google, what can I do? They never have a way to contact anyone.

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