24 September 2009

The Libertines Pub proudly presents its first prophecy: "be prepared for the cutting off of the internet connection at home"

Little are we known as part-time prophets. In order to broaden our "business", I give you the first Libertines Pub prophecy, it reads:

"Be prepared for the cutting off of the internet connection at home"

It's a well known fact that our government knows shit about policy development and is always a copycat. They always like following the western world on policy formulation. They are even brave enough to justify their policies by the fact that the policies are copied. We saw how they tried to convince us that drug test in school is good by blundering on the Anglo-Saxon experience.

As you bother to read up to this line of this boring entry, I am going to share with you the secret of our prophetic power: go and read a bit the foreign news.

Recently, the French legislature has passed the proposal on cutting off the internet connections to persistent illegal file-sharers. The UK is now also considering a similar proposal to the French three-strike e-guillotine.

We have all that are needed to fulfil the prophecy. We have a bunch of copycat brilliant songwriters, singers, and self-proclaimed international movies stars to cry about the harm piracy brought to the industry. The Big Brother is well known for his taste for controlling the access to the internet, and will be happy to see people like us in Hong Kong barred from going online (FYI: the Big Brother has not banned the Libertines Pub!). Not so difficult to tell that the same idea will be "thought up" here later.

I am not only reading you this prophecy. I also want to act fast and tell the Hong Kong government that the proposal is a wicked idea to consider. That is the job of a prophet, isn't it? So, AOs on the Lower Albert Road, please pretend you have never heard of the news! And ignore what Jackie Chan says! Given half a chance will he be drunk; when he is not, he is always an idiot.

The argument for the internet death penalty is simple: illegal file-sharing, which mainly refers to the sharing of copyrighted works, is stealing. And the government has every right and responsibility to stop online theft by depriving the thieves of their access to the internet, the major means of their crime.

A punishment that fits the "crime"?

Let's grant that the idea of copyright is ok for now and ask a basic question: even if the sharing of copyrighted materials is a theft, does this e-death penalty fit the crime?

Do you think it's cruel to chop a thief's hands off to prevent him/her from stealing again? Maybe also the legs to prevent a swift getaway? It's not only cruel, but the punishment just doesn't fit the crime! We do suspend driving licences when drivers persistently commit traffic offenses. However, we seldom ban the driver from travelling at all. The difference is the same between death penalty and life imprisonment. The criminals are locked up for a very long time, and will usually be paroled, but not killed.

By cutting off the internet connection to somebody, we effectively put an end to that person's e-life. Even if the sharing of copyrighted materials could be justifiably called a theft, barring a file-sharing thief from going online is not a justifiable punishment. It may work, but it's absolutely not right.

Copyright: an obscure and aged idea

The very idea of copyright is disturbingly obscure. I do not want to bore you with the "philosophy of copyright" here, but there are basically two justifications for the idea.

First, a person is entitled to a copyright because the work that person created is considered an "intellectual property". Anybody found such an idea puzzling? I do. The concept of property implies a right of ownership to the property. What does it mean by owning an idea? Keeping it in your head and away from anybody else, so in the end of the day, nobody knows you own such an idea? Ok, some of you will give me an answer like that: to own an idea means having the exclusive right to copy the idea to others. Nobody other than the owner can reproduce the idea in any form. Ar...that's "copyright", isn't it? Anybody smells circular argument here?

The second justification takes a more viable, consequentialist form. By giving the creator an exclusive right to sell the idea for financial gain, creativity and innovation will be encouraged. The society as a whole will be benefit from the creativity and innovation promoted through the protection of copyright. It is thought that nobody would bother thinking up things if they know that the copyright of their ideas would not be protected.

The very idea that nobody bothers create things if not encouraged financially is not universal for a start. Look at what we do here in the Libertines Pub. Even though my view was published in the Standard this Monday, I can assure you that they didn't pay me a cent.

Secondly, I can agree that remuneration will encourage more creation, but it does not have to be protected in the form of copyright.

Free contents are everywhere nowadays. We have more than a handful of free tabloids to pick up everyday. Restaurants offer pay-as-you-see-fit meals; Radiohead uploaded their album for pay-as-you-see-fit downloading and still managed to sell. Good concerts are still selling everywhere around the world.

Some said veteran artists like Radiohead of course will sell out any major venues and make a good profit by touring, something the newcomers cannot achieve. Without a proper gain from royalty and album sale, and not being able to sell in concerts at the same time, newcomers will only be discouraged from joining the industry. But anybody remember how Arctic Monkeys shot to fame? They simply played lots of gigs and distributed free copies of their tunes at their own cost at those gigs. They grew a large fan base exactly by giving away free stuff!

Many different business models are thinkable, instead of writing a few songs or filming a retarded movie masterpiece and hope that the royalty will make you die fat and old. Be innovative!

Another fundamental question to ask is: Who were making the real handsome fortune and are too lazy and thick to change their business model? The artists or the labels?

I am not against copyright of all kind. I do think that those who build a website to milk a fortune from others' works are distasteful and should be punished. However, the world has come to a point where the benefit of freer sharing of information will soon, if not already, outweigh the creativity encouraged by copyright protection. Content sharing sites like YouTube actually promoted creativity amongst the internet community. A more flexible conception of "copyright" should be considered. After all, the idea of copyright came from the beginning of the 18th century and there is no good reason why we should not review it.

The conclusion of our first prophecy: don't follow the French in cruelly e-murdering our people based on a "right" that is obscure and outdated. Hong Kong government, are you listening?

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