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Does this matter, and why should we care? Te Internet now provides us with free news, free entertainment, free connections with our friends and families, free search, free maps, and myriad other services which are all free at the point of use. It has changed the way we engage with content, and has changed the way a huge number of people pay for creative works. In fact, many have stopped paying altogether. As the owner of multiple devices I, too, rely on the services offered by technology firms, and can’t imagine life without them. Te truth though, is quite simple: nothing in life is really free, and someone, somewhere, is funding it.

Supporters of the US anti-piracy bills, including those from the Hollywood studios, music companies and book publishers, argued that these laws were needed to protect their works in the digital world and reverse the tide of online piracy. Without strong measures to block access to pirate or unlicensed material, they feared legitimate businesses that pay to offer content—sometimes free at the point of use— will never be able to compete. Monetising an online business is tough—tougher still when you’re not competing on a level playing field. Te web shouldn’t be above the law, and nor should its users.

Critics argued that the laws were too broad, were a slippery slope to web censorship and would block access to legal content, ushering in an era of caution and self-restraint from Internet service providers (ISPs) and digital providers. Tey emphasised that the Internet’s fundamental architecture should not be interfered with and that their role should never be to act as a barrier for those searching for content, illegal or not. Teir arguments were strong, clear and well received by the American public.


As with any new legislation, changes to the bill would probably have been needed and they would have been sensibly discussed in the proper legislative process. But dramatic measures from organisations such as Wikipedia to grab headlines, like its day of blackout, painted the debate in the most simplistic terms of censorship versus freedom. Good against bad. David against Goliath.

Some of the most ardent critics of the bills were the giants of the technology world, with deep pockets, their own business interests and shareholders to keep happy or, perhaps, with an eye on a future IPO. While Wikipedia is an excellent tool, used extensively by everyone from casual readers to journalists, students and fact-checkers everywhere, it too is funded. Its business model may be different—it is a not-for-profit trust funded by donations—but it still requires money to continue. (Removing access to the service for a day in a digital ‘strike’ was an interesting way to prove a point; many of us don’t have the liberty of downing our tools for the day, even if those tools are digital.)

I’m also an admirer of how many of the largest technology firms are stringent controllers and protectors of their own intellectual property (IP), especially the patents that their businesses are based on. However, their concern doesn’t seem to extend

to other people’s IP, and I believe that is wrong.

Te music business has been criticised extensively for not seeing the dramatic change that digital technologies would bring; hindsight is a wonderful thing. What the UK industry has subsequently achieved is one of the most competitive and compelling digital offerings anywhere for music consumers. In fact, the UK is one of the best countries in which to be a digital music consumer in 2012. A huge choice of legitimate streaming, download and cloud services are available from companies such as Spotify, We7, Apple and Amazon, among others. All these businesses offer legal alternatives to piracy and are switching consumers away from illegal sites where customers never truly know what they’re downloading. Business models are in their infancy, and I’m sure some will prosper and grow while some will go—that’s business. Exciting digital developments are also under way in the creative industries of film, television and books.

Te creative industries are changing and are adapting. We all know that the digital platform is our collective future. However, we need to ensure there are measures to protect this growing market. We’re not asking for subsidies, but for assistance to create a viable, competitive, free market in digital content. We have to encourage consumers away

14 World Intellectual Property Review January/February 2012

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