Posts Tagged ‘ Amazon ’

Another Bookshop Closure: Time For A Proper Debate?

HHNews of the closure of Hughes and Hughes Dundrum has been reported in The Irish Times and the trade presses, following an announcement on the company website. The Dundrum booksellers were informed of the decision last Monday afternoon, and were given notice that the branch was to close after trading on Sunday 10th March. Staff have not been offered alternative employment. The day chosen for a public announcement was World Book Day, an irony that didn’t go unnoticed by people posting on the bookshop’s Facebook page.   Continue reading

The First Wall To Fall?

You may know the website, surfthechannel.com, but you mightn’t know the man behind it all. Anton Vickerman is his name, a 38-year-old from Gateshead, in England. Or, at least, he was from Gateshead.

Vickerman, who founded the site in October 2007, has recently been jailed for four years, having been convicted on two counts of conspiracy to defraud. He was arrested in 2008 following a lengthy sting operation by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), who amongst other things, hired a private investigator to secretly film inside Vickerman’s house. On hearing of the verdict, Kieron Sharp, Director-General of FACT was triumphant. “This case conclusively shows that running a website that deliberately sets out to direct users to illegal copies of films and TV shows will result in a criminal conviction and a long jail sentence,” he said.

We should surely rejoice. After all, another criminal, an internet criminal and pirate has been caught. The day has been saved, as have lots of dollars for the creators of the television shows and films Vickerman was posting on his website. But wait a minute. Let’s actually do something the courts and FACT appear to have not – examine the nature of SurfTheChannel. When it was live, the website functioned as a sort of search engine for films and tv. Under each title were several links to different video hosting websites. Just the links, mind you, no videos, no hosting. Just a link, and a separate page in between, warning the user that they were about to leave STC, asking them if they really wished to proceed. When you think about it, Google doesn’t even do that. It too is a search engine. If you type ‘watch film online’ into the search bar, 494,000,000 results appear almost instantaneously, far more than you might have found on STC. Google doesn’t host them, it simply links to them, regardless of whether or not they might contain illegal content. It is up to the user to decide if they want to proceed. Only this week, the company announced its intention to downgrade illegal file sharing sites in its search results. Clearly they are aware of the presence of these sites in their index. So why doesn’t FACT come after Google and the other search engine giants? Is there an arrest warrant out for Larry Page too? I doubt it.

Let us link this to the real world for a moment. In any given bank branch in Ireland I would presume there is some sort of safe, containing fairly large sums of money. Now, we all know it’s illegal to break into these banks and steal that money. But what happens if I write a list of each AIB branch in the country, along with their exact addresses. Will I get arrested for simply telling people where to find the money, or posting it up on a noticeboard? After all, I’m not telling them to break in and steal it. That’s up to themselves entirely. Across the web you can find tutorials for almost anything, including some rather disturbing ones; killing somebody and how to get away with it. Now obviously killing somebody is illegal. But the reason you don’t find the creators being arrested is because not only have they not committed a crime, merely shown how one might go about doing so, certainly not advising such a course, but there are no big organisations like FACT, the Scientology of the movie business, ruthlessly cracking down on anyone who doesn’t follow their line of thinking.

The film and television industries are a little behind, as are the businesses which live on their coattails. People want digital entertainment, delivered instantaneously to their laptop and for reasonable prices. Cinema tickets are outrageous. Television packages like Sky extort large sums of money in return for little programming of any value. DVDs are still overpriced. Amazon Instant Video is getting there, though criticism are not so few, and its only available in the States. And Netflix is woefully under stocked in anything that resembles something watchable. The link below summarises the situation in a more humorous manner (though be warned, it is somewhat nsfw).

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/game_of_thrones

Watching illegally uploaded films or tv programmes is illegal, there’s no denying that. But its obvious why people are flocking to such websites in their droves. Less money means less to spend on entertainment, and if companies don’t understand that and react accordingly then they’re simply going to lose quite a lot of trade. Curbing piracy comes not by arresting anyone and everyone in sight, but by changing the method of media delivery. And while the users may be acting illegally in their choice of source, if its cheaper than what the industries are providing, then its a no brainer. Those providing the links to such content are simply making allowing for such content to be accessed, without forcing anyone to access it. Guns are not designed to save but to hurt or kill. And a gun dealer won’t advise you to wound or kill anyone, he merely provides you with the tools for the job, and leaves it use up to your own discretion. Anton Vickerman may be no angel but he’s no criminal either. If he must sit in jail for the next four years then Larry Page, Bill Gates and Marissa Mayer should be sitting right alongside him.

The case itself is highly suspect. FACT and the MPAA were allowed quite close to the investigation , and Hollywood officials were disturbingly involved with questioning while much of the evidence used in the case was gathered by those organisations in a private investigation. Also of interest is the crime Vickerman was charged with – conspiracy to defraud, rather than under the UK’s copyright laws. If his actions were indeed designed to circumvent piracy and copyright laws, then why was he not charged under them? Simple – the case was weak and would have been thrown out. And how can one man be charged as a conspiracy? Who did he conspire with? Himself? Perhaps he has several personalities we haven’t been informed of. “This was not a case brought using copyright law,” UK Pirate Party leader Loz Kaye said in a statement. “The interest groups involved couldn’t present a case of copyright infringement and decided to press for the use of the common law offence of ‘conspiracy to defraud.’ This offense is incredibly controversial in English law as it criminalizes conduct by two or more parties that would not be criminal when performed by an individual.” Only last year, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it would not be pursuing action against the founders of FileSoup, a service similar to SurfTheChannel, on the grounds that the case was a civil rather than a criminal matter, while Alan Ellis, the administrator of OiNK, which linked to BitTorrent downloads, was acquitted by a jury of conspiracy to defraud, having successfully argued that a) he provided a service similar to Google and b) he only offered links, and was not responsible for user’s decisions. Sound familiar? But when you have the government in your pocket, securing a conviction for anyone engaged in activities you don’t like shouldn’t be a huge problem.

Make the judgement for yourself. Visit Vickerman’s website and FACT, take a look at the evidence they offer and come to your own conclusions. Just don’t take the official story for granted.