Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Underground Lobbying | Music Business Worldwide

The following MBW blog comes from Paul Pacifico, CEO of the Association for Independent Music (AIM) – a UK-based collective representing independent labels and artists.

His words come ahead of a crucial European Parliament vote on the Copyright Directive tomorrow (September 12), some of which will center around Article 13 – a provision which seeks to force digital platforms to face legal repercussions for hosting unlicensed music, even when user-generated.

(You can read some counter-arguments on Article 13 from the likes of Wyclef Jean and pro-tech inventors such as Tim Berners-Lee, through the links.)

Pacifico’s ire is directed towards recent anti-Article 13 lobbying, which he suspects is being powered by technology companies not playing fair. 

We have grown used to the extraordinary abuse of data by Big Tech, and complicity with political forces in electioneering, either in the United States, or in the Caribbean.

The apologies from Facebook for allowing itself – and our privacy – to be hijacked, and the clamour of all sides in the US political arena about ‘fake news’ has brought an ugly capability into our consciousness.

But almost unreported has been the smothering of democratic systems and defences by Big Tech when it fights its own commercial agenda.

With that in mind, an extraordinary drama is currently being played out in Strasbourg, a drama that has generated several million targeted emails in just a few weeks, but of which most of us are totally unaware.

That is because these emails are not designed to sway ordinary citizens, but to swamp less than a thousand MEPs.

There are two huge issues at stake here – the first, is whether or not copyright laws should be allowed to work at all. The second is whether our parliaments should be allowed to listen and function.

Our system of copyright is a nineteenth century construct, which was last seriously adapted for the phonographic age. That is history.

Music, art, and writing are now communicated through the internet, and ‘last century’ protections are simply not applied.

The European Parliament has worked up a new Directive to adapt to this new media, only to find it assaulted by a coordinated, deliberately obscured, deeply-funded campaign of disinformation, led by ultra-libertarians with an anarcho-capitalist agenda, but organised and funded by Big Tech.

“The arguments against copyright are the preserve of two groups, libertarian campaigners and Big Tech, who recognise that logic, debate and transparency are not their friends.”

This campaign has not focused on the fabric of the EU Directives, but rather on false extrapolations and invented ‘implications’, which some campaigners claim would hamper creativity.

Which is odd, as the music world is pretty well entirely united behind the planned evolution of copyright.

We are not threatened. Who is? And why hasn’t most of the world heard about this campaign?

Because the arguments against copyright are the preserve of two groups, libertarian campaigners and Big Tech, who recognise that logic, debate and transparency are not their friends.

The wave of computer-driven attacks on the new Directive are almost entirely focused on bombarding lawmakers with automated communications, which claim to come from a broad-based, pluralistic array of disparate groups.

Individual MEPs report receiving up to 60,000 computer directed emails this summer: Enough to overwhelm anybody.

But the bots that sent those emails wisely left the rest of us alone.

When the Pirate Party called for a ‘Day of Action’ in 28 major cities across Europe last month they claimed that they would get over a million supporters.

Their posters still do. In fact, they barely got more than twenty or thirty concerned citizens onto the street in each location.

Ironically, many of these demonstrations were organised by a tiny Austrian group, that usually campaigns against terrorist legislation but, with funding from a German hackers collective and Mozilla, is now a leader in support of the Pirate MEPs who are leading the political battle.

The complete contrast of volume to reality reminds us of the Wizard of Oz, exposed as a little middle-aged man behind his technical bombast.

But there is nothing homely or sweet about this story.

“The complete contrast of volume to reality reminds us of the Wizard of Oz.”

In the deranged doublespeak of their case, the activists and the pirates claim that in this campaign they are standing up against ‘big business’.

The quiet truth is that they are working to the same agenda, using the organisational machinery provided by the campaign coffers of those big businesses that stand to gain most from the dilution of copyright.

The almost invisible forces here are predominantly two internet giants, Google and Mozilla. “Godzilla”.

Google owns YouTube, and both firms are dependent upon traffic volumes for the advertising that is their ultimate source of business.

They don’t value copyright (except, no doubt, their technical patents!) but they value traffic, all kind, any kind, on the net.

A stolen song, a pornographic image, a conversation. All, in the end, are traffic: and all traffic, however indiscriminately generated, is income.

These campaigns against copyright, including the most active unit – the cynically and comically misnamed “Copyright 4 Creativity” – are deeply funded by corporate tech giants.

C4C is funded by tech industry groups, CDT and CCIA, who in turn receive financial backing from a number of sources with serious skin in the game. C4C is managed and directed by N-Square, a consultancy, which in turn has numerous links to Big Tech.

The seemingly innocuous and public-minded activities of the Dutch company, Kennisland, which leads, funds and directs Communia – at first glance, a consortium which is highly active in representing and recycling the support of other groups – also receives funding from a variety of major tech sources.

OpenMedia, a friendly-sounding Canadian activist group which has set up a business that, at a click will send emails or voice messages to swamp multiple MEPs, is also funded by these same self-interested parties.

The murky list goes on.

The irony of self-proclaimed tech anarchists and libertarians dancing to these corporations’ tune is obscured by the very low profile that their funding structures achieve.

Google and other Big Tech players barely feature on this tangled web of lobbying, letters and websites – and their logos never appear in the email bombardment.

It doesn’t matter how strongly the ‘clicktavist’ feels. It doesn’t matter how many there are. And the issues don’t matter.

As one commentator put it: This isn’t a real grassroots movement at all: It’s just Astroturf.

‘This isn’t a real grassroots movement at all: It’s just Astroturf.’

In recent days, possibly aware that the bot swamping campaign was becoming a grotesque own goal, YouTube has finally, openly, called upon people to sign up to www.saveyourinternet.eu.

The very small print on that website, with its automated click-to-contact an MEP, will tell you the campaign is run by Copyright for Creativity.

I might suggest, therefore, that you write to your MEP.

But the chances are, with 60,000 computer generated communications already clogging up their inboxes, they can’t hear you.Music Business Worldwide

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