Entries from January 2010 ↓

Data.gov.uk

I feel a tiny shudder of pride to see Data.gov.uk launched today. It was a stream of work that was set in motion through the work of the Power of Information Task force, chaired by the great former Lib Dem MP, Richard Allan.

The site will act as a resource for the many who want to make our world a better, easier place to live. Perhaps more importantly from an elected representative’s perspective, it marks a milestone in cultural change for the civil service that many thought would never happen. The data sets that are being liberated make the public sector just that little bit more accountable. I’m not sure where the site will go but I do know that the small number of civil servants who worked with Tim Berners Lee and Nigel Shadbolt to make it happen deserve our respect and admiration. They swam against the tide and for once, they’ve succeeded.

Prospect magazine has an interesting insight into the story of Data.gov.uk. I can’t wait to read the full story.

Digital Heritage

This is what I was going to say.  Not all of it got in. You’ll have to wait for Hansard to see the exact transcript.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Labour): I beg to move,

    That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable specified institutions to make digital copies of cultural artefacts for archival purposes not withstanding the existence of any intellectual property right; and for connected purposes

Mr Speaker –

The transmission of our heritage has been revolutionised by the interconnected world of the internet. The greatest cultures of the world are on the cusp of being open to the hundreds of millions of people who use the internet. From the richness and history of India and China, Brazil or Mexico, future generations will discuss, consider and analyse their heritage online.

As H.G. Wells predicted and Pierre Levy recently said, for the first time, humankind has the capacity to build a universal digital memory. Many of our countries’ cultural institutions have only started on this grand project in the last decade.

Their work, though, is often hampered by laws that were framed to deal with the problems of the analogue age. Our system of copyright has for many years – perhaps even before the invention of the World Wide Web – been creaking at the edges.  It has been unable to cope with the explosive growth of creativity, content creation and new technology and the ever increasing pace of change of the latter 21st century.

The Gowers Review identified many steps that could be taken to allow our great cultural institutions – like the British Library, the British Film Institute and the National Archives – to curate their works in a manner that allows all the opportunities of the digital age to be grasped.

Gowers highlighted that the UK had far more stringent restrictions on copying classes of work for archival and preservation purposes than other countries.

It also made specific recommendations on how the UK should deal with Orphan works – copyrighted works where it is either difficult or impossible to track down the rights holder.

It is reassuring to know that many of these issues raised by curators and copyright lawyers are proposals contained within the Digital Economy Bill currently being discussed in the Other Place. However, Mr Speaker the many wise heads in the Other Place that are applying their wise minds to the draft Bill are moving many, many amendments at a baffling pace. We do not know in what form the Bill will come to this House. Although if Lords Errol and Whitty, Razzel and Clement Jones get their way, at least we can be reassured that the Bill will be in much better shape when it reaches us.

The Digital Economy Bill is perhaps the most important Bill the creative industries have seen this decade. Yet they know, as we all do in this House, that parliamentary time is short in advance of a General Election.

They, like many members of this House, would be concerned to see some of the big measures contained within the Bill dealt with in a last minute deal between the two political parties in the wash-up of a dissolved Parliament. In particular, measures contained within clauses 11 and 17 of the Digital Economy Bill that give unprecedented powers to the Secretary of State to interpret copyright infringement and take technical measures to punish infringers.

If the measures are bounced through it will be widely interpreted as a shabby and tawdry deal between the two front benches in order to satisfy the interests of old and big publishing interests at the expense of smaller publishers, creators and consumers.

We live in unprecedented times in terms of our ability to store digital content. Kryder’s law, that almost mystical formula that says that digital data capacity will double every 13 months – means that we can now super-process acres of data that was undigestible only a decade or so ago.

Ten years ago, I had a Discman and a few hundred CDs. Three years ago, my iPod held thousands of songs.

If Kryder’s law holds true, somewhere around 2013 an iPod will be able to carry a years worth of video. By 2016, it will hold all of the commercial music ever produced. By 2019, it could carry a lifetime of video, 85 years of it. And somewhere around 2024 all the content every produced in history could be stored on a device that fits into a pocket.

When this unprecedented technological advance is fully understood, it leads many to draw the conclusion that existing proposals to brand a generation of innate Internet users as pirates, is simply futile.

What is required is a complete rethink on copyright.

One that accepts that technology now allows people to share content, crunch it, mash it and remake it.  To illustrate my point with a contemporary political example: when Labour was elected in 1997, young political propagandists from all parties had to make their point by using an aerosol and a balaclava. Now, they use can use photoshop. The recent experience of the website MyDavidCameron.com is an example of where people take an idea and re-use it to add to a discussion and make a point. Political Party managers might not like it but it has given election billboards and new relevance and interest for the forthcoming general election. It’s actually made electioneering interesting, unpredictable and dare I say it, fun.

Legislative change needs to keep up with this pace.  Current copyright laws are simply not fit for the digital age.

And if you don’t think that digital natives will change the world of politics with their billboard mash ups, I ask colleagues to take a look at the voting figures for the Pirate Party.

In Sweden, the Pirate Party – an organisation dedicated to giving a generation of ‘net users a voice in the copyright settlement – elected a Member of the European Parliament. They are now the third largest party in Sweden. 

In Germany, 1 in 8 first time voters supported the German Pirate Party in their recent elections. The message in the UK is clear. Just because they don’t have the capacity to lobby government as easily as the BPI, young people will react very strongly at the ballot box if their Internet rights are diminished.

And when they are told by an army of big publishing lobbyists that the creative industries are in peril, they have the capacity to google a strong riposte:

Yesterday, the UK Film Council said that in 2009 British cinemas saw their best admissions in 7 years with box office takings in the UK and Ireland exceeding £1billion for the first time. 2009 saw £1.73 billion was spend on video games – a big increase on the previous year. Last year 240 million books were sold, in 2000 the figure was 154 million.

Sure our publishing industries are undergoing massive turbulence and are in flux but young people simply will not by the argument that piracy is the root cause when they see figures like these.

Mr Speaker, I turn to the detail of this Bill. A significant part of our cultural and scientific heritage is simply decaying in cupboards and basements around Britain – orphaned; because the rights holders to the work cannot be traced.

This Bill allows named institutions be able to take digital copies of all their works for archiving purposes only – unimpeded by any copyright and licensing restrictions.

Currently, as the law stands, copyright exceptions do apply to allow reproduction of works for preservation; however it only allows for one copy to be made. This is impossible for digital preservation as it will often require multiple copies in order to get the right format and as viewing formats change.

A library usually needs to contact the copyright holder is in order to obtain permission to use the work in ways not covered by national copyright exceptions. The problem of orphan works now impedes many library and archive mass digitisation projects where rights holders cannot be traced.

The fragmented structure of the film industry – with many companies being established but producing new films with a high failure rate – there are works in its collections where the production company has ceased to exist and no successor company owns distribution rights. The BFI believe that about 10% of their non fiction holdings fall into this category.

Orphan Works mean our heritage and other public sector content is being locked up. While much is of little commercial value, it has a high academic and cultural significance. It should not be left unused.

There are a number of cumbersome steps that our cultural institutions have to go through to meet the current requirements of copyright law when seeking to use or reproduce a copy of works held in their collections. They need to be able to preserve their works, shift formats over time and make our heritage available. Our history should not be left rotting in basements; and I beg leave to introduce this Bill.

Unsolicited email from Cadbury Head of Corporate Affairs

This  seems rather pathetic in light of the announcment today:

As you may have seen, this morning our Board recommended shareholders accept a significantly improved offer from Kraft of 840p a share plus a 10p special dividend.  

This decision was not taken lightly, but in the end the Board has a clear legal duty to secure value for shareholders, many of whom indicated that this was a level of value that they would be prepared to accept. 

The improved offer represents a premium of some 50% on our pre-bid share price (September ’09) and 13% premium above Kraft’s last offer

Kraft’s offer deadline for shareholder acceptances remains 2 February. If it succeeds Cadbury plc will become part of Kraft Foods on that date.

I can’t pretend that I don’t feel an immense personal sadness that Cadbury will no longer be a standalone confectionery company. But I also know that through this process Kraft – and the market – has seen the value of our iconic brands, our unique culture and our outstanding people, which is where the power and value of Cadbury lies. This will not change. We fought a great fight, and whilst we didn’t win independence, we did prove once and for all that we are a world class business.

We’re now focused on ensuring any transition retains the unique qualities of Cadbury, including maintaining the momentum behind our Cadbury Cocoa Partnership and Fairtrade certification.

Through this difficult time we’ve been heartened by the support we have received from people all over the world, and would like to thank everyone for their efforts.

Taking Video Games Seriously

Monday 25th January, Grand Committee Room, Westminster Hall, 6.30-8.00pm

How should we think about the world’s fastest-growing and most lucrative entertainment medium?

I am chairing a discussion on the place of video games and virtual worlds in modern society – the lessons we might learn from them, their dangers, and why the public debate needs to move beyond breathless accusations about violent, screen-addicted young people. Joining me for the discussion will be:

Tom Chatfield, senior editor at Prospect magazine, and author of Fun Inc, a major new book on the social importance of video games, published by Virgin Books on 14th January.

Philip Oliver, CEO of Blitz Games, one of Britain’s largest independent games developers, and one of its most radical in pursuing the serious and innovative uses of games. With his brother, Philip is one of the founding fathers of the British games industry.

Sam Leith is a cultural critic and author, and columnist for The Guardian, The Evening Standard and Prospect. A previous books editor at the Daily Telegraph, he has a particular interest in popular culture and emerging technologies, and writes regularly on video games.

If you would like to attend the event, please let Claire Pilsbury know in my London office on 020 7219 8335 or by emailing pilsburyc@parliament.uk

I hope to see you on Monday 25th January in the Grand Committee Room from 6.30pm for what promises to be a lively discussion.