A COPYRIGHT WRONG

The UK courts ruled this week that internet service providers are, in effect, responsible for the protection of the Hollywood film industry’s intellectual property and profits.  After a long running legal dispute, the High Court instructed BT to bar its six million broadband customers across the country from accessing Newzbin2, a file-sharing website that the Motion Picture Association (MPA), a trade body representing the interests of the Hollywood film studios, believes encourages illegal downloading of blockbuster movies.  And that infringes the MPA’s members’ copyright and undermines their profitability.

Recognising the labyrinthine nature of how the internet works, BT also has to block cyber back alleys that would give Newzbin’s members access through alternative routes.  Not only is BT expected to act as cyber-policeman, but it also has to foot the bill.

Having got the better of the largest player in the UK market, it won’t be long before the MPA writes to the UK’s other ISPs suggesting they fall in line with the judgement to avoid troubling their legal teams with the same debate with the Judge.

In the 1970s, the radio cassette recorder performed a miracle, transferring tunes from the radio to magnetic tape for repeated replay and enjoyment. Home VCRs became affordable in the early 1980s and enabled us to record films from the TV that were scheduled to compete with live football on another channel, or broadcast beyond the watershed to please the film censor.

We weren’t copyright pirates, just kids embracing new loves that would last a lifetime, relationships that would cost small fortunes to maintain in albums, concert and cinema tickets, DVDs and popcorn in the years ahead.  Magnetic tape was in fact a remarkable marketing tool for the creative industries in the analogue world.  Then we learned to digitise everything.

Digital technology has revolutionised the creative industries.  A personal computer with the right software is a state of the art recording studio today, while advanced computer graphics brings scenes of beauty and complexity to the big screen that were previously unthinkable, except in the most fervent imagination.

Digital technology has also transformed the way creative products are made, distributed and sold.  Back catalogues and new releases alike can be acquired at the click of a mouse and enjoyed instantly from a range of websites.  This revolution is part the work of companies like Apple, with its iTunes website and all manner of MP3 and video-capable devices, but also thanks to faster broadband connections that have been built with the capital investments made by the telecommunications industry.

While I do not condone the theft of anything from anybody, I’m not convinced the creative industries’ increasingly aggressive battle against the illegal downloaders will not do more harm than good in the long term.

No doubt the MPA will argue that they’re only protecting their assets and the interests of their talent, and that reduced levels of paid-for consumption of their products today impairs their ability to fund tomorrow’s productions and innovations.

But the MPA are getting it both ways.  They’re happy for ISPs to carry the distribution costs for their latest marketing materials, movie trailers available on sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Vimeo. These are in effect free advertising media. Meanwhile, new music acts inhabit the world wide web is search of an audience that might, in turn, secure a record deal.

I’m also uncomfortable about any ruling that makes an ISP responsible for the behaviour of others.  The law works on the principle of precedent, so the next time a bank gets robbed, who should we sue first? – the manufacturer of the motor car in which the thieves made their getaway, or whoever built the roads on which the villains managed their escape?

Whatever happened to corporate accountability? Shouldn’t Hollywood, a multi-billion dollar global industry, be responsible for the security and protection of its own products and services?  Shouldn’t they be investing more of their profits to find better technical security solutions for their intellectual property, rather than shouting ‘not fair’ at the judge?

The real issue is that the servers that store digital content can be located anywhere in the world.  Newzbin2’s servers are currently located in the Seychelles in the western Indian Ocean.  They can be very easily moved and re-sited to another paradise overnight if trouble comes calling.

And that’s the key point.  The MPA is targeting the telecoms industry simply because they are static and a stationary target is always easier to hit than a moving one.

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CASHBACK

With the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger now a myth, Ireland’s economy is moribund. Businesses are unable to raise lines of credit from cash-strapped and under-capitalised banks to grow, fund cash flow or employ the ever-expanding legion of the unemployed.  After a decade of wholesale repatriation of the Irish back to Ireland, the country has again become a net exporter of youth in search of better prospects overseas.

Meanwhile, and to make matters worse, mortgages that were passed out like pints of Guinness at a cèilidh during the good times to purchase over-valued property, have fallen into disrepair.

Business is struggling too.  Larger suppliers are unable to extend credit to their smaller business customers making business a cash on delivery, or no delivery, event.  The mood is dark and desperate, and desperate people do strange things.

Last week, thieves relieved a man living near the village of Raphoe, a mostly agricultural community in Donegal, of €30,000 in cash. The cash, it is said, had been kept in a biscuit tin locked in a shed for a ‘rainy day’.  This was an explanation I found odd given that in Donegal, rain gives way only to snow, but I digress.

Either the thieves knew exactly what they were doing, or they had the spirit of St Patrick himself on their team. Cash stolen from a biscuit tin stored in a shed is unlikely to raise much of a response from An Garda Síochána (the police force), never mind the insurance company.  A spokesman for the Irish Farmers Association responded by advising local people not to store large amounts of cash at home, suggesting it safer in a bank or Post Office.

I was curious so had a chat with a local locksmith.  His business is doing reasonably well, he told me, in large part because of the regular sale of large and hard to crack safes.  It seems there’s a lot of people hoarding large amounts of cash at home in Ireland.  “Why don’t they just lodge the cash in the bank,” I asked innocently.

“Because the bank will offset the cash against any overdue loans, and still won’t lend money if it’s needed, so people are holding cash close because they like to have instant access to it in difficult times,” was his reply.

Then he mentioned something else.  “Irish people don’t trust the banks to survive the downturn and fear that whatever cash they have in the bank will disappear overnight when the banks go under, so they keep it at home.”

So Ireland is awash with cash and the economy is moribund because of a shortage of the stuff.  Sounds a bit Irish, I suppose.

Maybe it’s time the banks and the Irish government got together to work out the details of a cash amnesty.  It could get the wheels of business turning and Irish eyes might  smile again?

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DO AS I SAY …

The global economy remains unwell, suffering the mother and father of all hangovers after the party got a bit, well, wild. “I’ll never drink those bloody bubbles again,” it whispers from time to time.  Symptoms include weight loss in the bank account, aching in the pension fund and chronic pain in the job and housing markets.  The heart is trying to pump money around the system, but the arteries are dry. The patient also presents signs of depression.

Businesses, important organs in the global economy, are self-medicating to rebuild strength and heal wounds.  Thousands of employees have been given the opportunity to make a personal sacrifice with their jobs. Those retained work harder, to give more and maximise the cash coming in and minimise what goes out.  Still, we’re sailing together aboard HMS Abstinence.  Except it turns out we’re not.

Research by Income Data Services highlights that personal remuneration for the most senior directors in FTSE 100 companies, the leading cheerleaders for employee austerity in recent years, rose by 49 per cent in the last financial year to an average of £2.7 million.  To rub salt into the wounds left by the surgeon’s scalpel, this follows a 55 per cent rise in 2009/10 when profits recovered after the initial phase of recession.

News like this saps fragile employee morale and make many stop to reassess their corporate commitment. And who can blame them after enduring close to zero pay rises in the last few years while inflation galloped ahead.  Meanwhile they’ve had to cull jobs and experience increased workloads all around them.

They’ve responded to their CFO’s call for austerity and speeches from the CEO about how, after taking the difficult decisions now, they’ll re-emerge as a stronger, fitter and more competitive business.

One of the biggest challenges for any major internal communications campaign is the inherent and enduring cynicism that employees have towards the most senior managers. With the right internal communications and engagement, good employees can be counted on to give more if they know everyone’s sailing in the same vessel.

Too many CEOs forget that their compensation represents the aggregated efforts of the entire workforce during the year.  IDS’s report suggest that today’s CEOs are gambling that the next time the workforce needs to be called upon to make sacrifices for the good of the business, they themselves will be long gone, enjoying the rewards amassed when times were tough.   The job of the internal comms teams in FTSE 100 companies just got a little bit harder.

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