Sheffield’s own Hallam University student Richard O’Dwyer this year faced extradition to the United States where he could have faced up to five years in prison for copyright infringement. His crime? He dared to use his entrepreneurial spirit to create the TVShack.net website, which allowed people to search for and share links to television shows and films available, in full, across the web. Quite a clever idea, I’m sure we all agree, since he was simply providing a resource for people to access the pirate sites, not pirating anything himself, nor hosting torrents for these to be downloaded. But this kind of entrepreneurship is frowned upon because O’Dwyer was a Sheffield lad exploiting a chink in the armour of the entertainment industry, and not the entertainment industry itself.
British Home Secretary Theresa May actually approved the U.S. request for extradition, after rejecting a similar request over Gary McKinnon, a London man with Asperger’s syndrome and depression who hacked into U.S. military systems ten years ago to try and find information on UFO’s.
I guess there isn’t much corporate sponsorship from the U.S. military for British politicians, eh? Because if you run a television show, film and video game company like Dreamworks – as David Geffen does – you might want to spend some time with a high-ranking New Labour bigwig like Lord Peter Mandelson at the Rothschild villa in Corfu, Greece, just before the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, one of the last gasp works of the New Labour project, in 2010, before it was killed off by the general election aftermath. The Digital Britain report had recommended that copyright infringements online should not result in such drastic measures as internet disconnection. But after a chat with Universal Music Group chief Lucian Grainge and his little vacation in Corfu, Lord Mandelson decided to suddenly take a firm stance in rejecting the recommendations of the Digital Britain report and call for harsh technical measures as proposed punishments, though adopting this position two months before public consultation had even been completed. As my partner Jane Watkinson recently pointed out to me, it’s something the Tories have done since: hold a consultation, listen, and then do what you wanted to do, anyway. Lord Mandelson might as well have holidayed in Llamedos. Never heard of it? Read it backwards.
So, as Britain suffers an economic depression partially thanks to cuts following a £1.5 trillion bail-out of the banking companies, and people lose jobs, seek what’s left of welfare benefits, and stay home finding cheap or free entertainment, they meanwhile face severe consequences of downloading programming, movies and music. Well now of course this media activist would never dream of doing it myself, but if I were ever to download music or movies, it might be because the expansive collection I’d accumulated over the years was never returned to me from my time in Canada, so if there’s ever a complaint from authorities, I’ll be sure to forward it over there…’kay?
Beyond people replacing or replenishing their stockpile of entertainment, folk rock legend Neil Young calls torrents “the new radio.” “I look at the radio as gone,” he said. “Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around.” His point that the weakness of audio file-sharing online means lower qualities than what vinyl offered “in 1978” also supports the argument for artists to become true performers, making their money from the ability to sing and play well live while gigging prolifically. Radical concept, eh? This could mean that acts have to hold a more personal relationship with their audience while proving they’re as good as their tracks suggest they are, possibly cutting out middle-men via merchandise sales at shows…a dangerous concept to major entertainment companies like Dreamworks and Universal who want so much control of the contrived crap that fills most of the airtime.
Then there’s News Corporation, the second-largest media organisation and third-largest entertainment group on the planet that in 2010 contributed £1 million to the Republican effort in the States while supporting the Conservatives here in Britain. It is, of course, controlled by Rupert Murdoch – the tycoon who backed Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W. Bush, and largely ensures all of his “news” ventures perpetuate his political perspective, whether they be Fox News, Sky News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Sun, The Times, or The Australian.
A thorn in the side of Rupert Murdoch, Tom Watson MP spoke here in Sheffield this week as News Corporation have been submerged by an avalanche of allegations of hacking attempts – into accessing Gordon Brown’s private legal files, medical records, and bank account, as well as the into phones of NewsCorp media rivals, in addition to celebrities, soldiers’ families, even victims of crime and the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorism attacks, all for the benefit of their “news” outlets. Sickening as this is, the subsequent investigations and even the recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry often lack the same momentum of pursuit as those targeting lowly hackers in basements, file-sharers, or drunken kids on Facebook.
Yes, in the wake of the 2011 summer riots in Britain, 20 year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22 year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan created Facebook events organising “riots” of their own as, essentially, nothing more than a practical joke. Now, nobody turned up, and the pages were deleted with apologies. Yet the judge, Elgan Edwards QC, called this harmless and hilarious epic social media fail an “evil act,” adding, “Your conduct was quite disgraceful and the message you posted on Facebook chills the blood.” The obnoxious old fart then claimed that the only reason no one showed up to start a riot was entirely due to “the prompt and efficient actions of police,” – not, in fact, that people just aren’t inclined to start smashing shit up because of a Facebook status posted in a drunken stupor. The two lads were jailed for four years. Yes: four years. For creating and deleting a Facebook page that caused no harm to anybody.
I don’t know about you, but the judge’s words chill my blood, and his absolutely irrational, irresponsible claims seem provocative enough to instigate real riots. It’s a wonder hundreds of us aren’t going and creating all kinds of Facebook events to incite riots. Would they arrest us all? I guess the pages Facebook refuse to ban – such as those calling for violence against women – are just fine. This kind of attitude and wanton desire to destroy the lives of two otherwise harmless young people while revering the police is everything that’s wrong with Britain. To subject these lads to such misleading, melodramatic vitriolic scorn is absolutely vile, and the fact they’ve been sent down is an injustice and an affront to the very values and laws Elgan Edwards is supposed to stand up for. He should be ashamed, he should be sacked, and – if there was any actual justice – he’d be the one in the nick, preferably with all the blokes he sentenced over the years. Attacking and punishing innocent people who committed no crime is a crime itself – so by that rationale, this judge should be locked up.
The riots of 2011 saw many people take leave of their senses. Jane Watkinson and I, even amongst the Left, seemed like lone voices amongst the reactionary rants of so many people who bought into the demonisation of youth that Murdoch’s media, and most other media, took part in. The fall-out from Thatcherism’s Big Bang and subsequent rampant materialist individualism as a Tory government abolished the Future Jobs Fund and Education Maintenance Allowance, the riots were merely sparked by the latest in a long line of Met Police injustices, the social conditions ideal kindling for the raging rioting of the summer heat. When the bankers cost our country £1.5 trillion, no one is held to account; when young people damage private property, and steal sneakers and big screen television sets and the latest “must-have” gadgets, they’re punished even more than they already were by the terror of government policy.
This is today’s right-wing Britain – where costing your country money or stealing secrets is just fine, so long as you’re rich and powerful.
I wonder if I’ll get four years for posting this?