Calm Reasoned Dialogue Helps

Keep Calm And Read OnThe last week or so has been “interesting” to say the least. (Last time round it was only a couple of days. …. now it’s stretched to a week)

It’s also been incredibly busy, which is why I’m only getting round to posting this now and even now I doubt that anything I post will be that coherent, but I’ll give it a go..

Over the past week or so myself, TJ McIntyre, Simon McGarr, Ian Bergin (and many others) have probably spoken to just about every single media outlet in the country. The discussion and debate surrounding copyright, digital rights has gone from being a minor interest to something that mainstream media are paying attention to.

It’s been wonderful to see over 70 thousand people sign the petition over on StopSOPAIreland.com.

It’s been depressing to see some of the stupid and profane insults being directed at an elected representative on Twitter and elsewhere. You may not agree with Minister Sherlock, but there’s no excuse for some of the offensive insults that have been aimed at him over the last week.

So let’s look at the positives, the negatives and possible future actions. (You’ll have to excuse me if I meander!)

For a long time I’ve felt that our industry as a whole was not taking the right approach when engaging with government.

In many respects we speak a completely different language.

The IP (intellectual property) lobby, however, can be very well organised and knows how to speak the language that politicians and government understand.

They also have another major advantage – unity. Rights holders tend to speak as one voice, while those of us in the digital economy either don’t speak, or when we do we don’t know how to do so in a way that government will understand. Unity is, usually, but a distant dream.

The exception to that of course was the SOPA Blackout, or as Frugal Dad termed it in their rather excellent infographic, “The Day the Internet Stood Still”. And while the huge level of interest in a single day is laudable I’d hope that people don’t forget that SOPA was just one battle. The war is far from over. But maybe using terminology like “battle” and “war” isn’t particularly helpful. It might be a clear metaphor, but it’s confrontational. And confrontation is a big part of the problem.

The debate and discussion around copyright online is not a new one. It’s been going on for years, but it’s only in the last few months that it’s become visible enough for people outside our industry to pay attention.

SOPA and PIPA in the US might be “dead”, but you’re incredibly naive if you  believe that they won’t be replaced with something else. The important thing is that whatever comes along as a replacement should be balanced enough to make both rights holders and the rest of us (even though we are a rights holder) happy, or equally unhappy.. depending on your viewpoint.

The key for those of us involved in the digital industry is to actively engage in constructive dialogue with both the rights holders and our public representatives. But it needs to be both dialogue and constructive. Shouting at each other won’t work.

Last Wednesday  evening I, along with several others from the Irish Internet Association,  met with Minister Sherlock in his offices. We spent about an hour discussing both our concerns and fears, as well as getting a very good feel for the Minister and his government’s views on the issues. We had a very good discussion, which I think all parties found to be educational and productive. Among the concerns we raised was that we hadn’t seen the draft text of the proposed legislation and we also didn’t feel that the safeguards that may exist had been clearly communicated. The text was produced the next day.

However organisations such as ISPAI (Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland – we’re a member) were very concerned by the wording. You can read their letter here (PDF). Around the same time Ireland’s largest online community Boards.ie joined the fray and published an open letter on their site that all visitors had to see before accessing it (kind of like an interstitial advert). And all through this time the number of signatories of the petition on the Stop SOPA Ireland site kept growing..

Yesterday evening an incredible thing happened. The Irish parliament (Dail Eireann) actually debated the proposed Statutory Instrument on copyright. Minister Sherlock and other members of the Dail had a lively discussion about an SI that was originally going to be signed into law without any public debate! It was also made very clear by the Minister that they intend to proceed with signing it next week, which didn’t come as a surprise to me. On a positive note, however, the Minister and his colleagues had considered an alternative wording to the SI that was drafted by TJ McIntyre and Simon McGarr. That alternative wording would have removed a lot of the issues for companies such as ourselves who dread spurious legal threats. No matter how spurious a legal threat might be it still costs us money and time to defend ourselves and our clients against them.

What are the next steps?

In the short term I’m not 100% sure, but things change very quickly in the world of politics.

While it might be nice to think that the government might actually adopt amended wording for the SI, which would go a long way to appeasing companies like ourselves, it’s more likely that the SI will be signed into law in its current form.

However even if that does happen there is still a chance to make a change. Irish politicians are now very aware of the level of interest the Irish public have in this topic. They cannot simply ignore 70 thousand people. Both the IIA and the ISPAI should be able to facilitate dialogue with both industry, government and rights holders. Unfortunately to date IRMA have not shown any willingness to “play ball”.

Maybe the sane way forward is for there to be a comprehensive debate and revision of copyright law in Ireland leading to either modifications to the existing legislation or the introduction of completely new legislation.

What do you think?

Let us know via the comments.

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7 Responses to Calm Reasoned Dialogue Helps

  1. steve white February 1, 2012 at 02:49 #

    it amazing how reasonable people are in private meetings, amazing but useless to most of us, then they speak publically and the give no recognition to the problem in the dail. It wasn’t a debate there was no chance of 1 side winning it.

  2. Andy Harkness February 1, 2012 at 10:14 #

    Hi Michele,

    Great post… not meandering at all! Unfortunately I have to disagree that things work fast in the world of politics. Only certain issues move fast if they are perceived to be vote getters (like the roll back of medical cards for over 70s). Once legislation has been passed it is much more difficult to change things.

    Irish politicians seem to treat online campaigns with suspicion – especially if they are not familiar with the people campaigning. Those campaign groups that are most successful spend a long time cultivating relationships with Ministers and also target traditional media and local TDs. The reason campaigns such as the campaign on medical cards for over 70s was so successful was because people went and saw their local TD rather than send out a few angry tweets on Twitter.

  3. Andy Harkness February 1, 2012 at 20:18 #

    I see Stopsopaireland have organised the very thing I was suggesting in my last comment:

    http://stopsopaireland.com/pledge-now-to-save-your-friend-the-internet/

    … suppose I better get off me arse then and go see a TD!

  4. ralough February 2, 2012 at 13:47 #

    Great post. I would point to the root of the problem as the proven ability of Copyright holders to
    get legislation enhanced for their financial benefit.

    I see no justification for Patents to be valid for twenty years and Copyright for nearly 100 years,
    but how to get those changes rolled back?

  5. Bernie Goldbach February 4, 2012 at 07:16 #

    Unless your private meeting secured a written understanding that Deputy Sherlock was going to take on board the reasoned positions of the ISPAI and the IIA, you haven’t moved the government from its position of placating the recording industry on its terms.

    Ireland’s propensity to “consult” with constituents is often no more than “playing” the masses. The result counts more than the warm welcome received in chambers.

    And is the result anything more than a statutory instrument permitting the courts to impose restrictions on ISPs? Is Deputy Sherlock actually interested in framing primary legislation that clearly prioritizes individual rights of access to the internet?

    Like it or not, the well-intentioned TD sits in a seat where he is the face of change. Once you put your face on an election poster, you enter a world where the cut-and-thrust of the real world will follow you. Elected politicians need to feel the pressure of the real world before they impose pain on the electorate. Sometimes that means getting caught in a cross-fire of emotive engagement.

    Here’s hoping the competitiveness of Ireland is not damaged by the method Deputy Sherlock uses to impose change. Personally, I hope he does not subordinate the strategic interests of Ireland to the vested interests of the entertainment industry.