For my Guardian column today, I took the LibDem Lords to task for introducing legislation that would ban web-lockers because these services allow for copyright infringement. I won’t argue that copyright infringement takes place on services like Google Docs and YouSendIt, but the reason that these services are great for piracy is that they’re great for privacy: the same feature that lets me use YouSendIt to send a family member a private video of my kid in the bath is the feature that lets a copyright violator to share a pirated movie. And you can’t get rid of the copyright violations without eliminating our ability to privately share large files for legitimate reasons.
And separate from that, there’s the infrastructural cost of establishing a Great Firewall of Britain in order to block access to web lockers. Developing a system whereby parts of the net can be shut off for all of Britain creates the possibility that someone will use the system to shut off the wrong part of the net. I’m not just talking about the danger of a hijacker breaking into the system to shut down or redirect traffic to legitimate sites (say, Microsoft Security Centre or the BBC), but the attractive nuisance presented by such a system. Once you create the facility to shut off parts of the internet that are implicated in civil disputes, how long will it be before people who’ve alleged a libel or are worried about a trade secret being not so secret are lobbying to have this turned to their aid?
Which isn’t to say that this will actually stop infringement. File sharers have already demonstrated their ability to use the perfectly legal, widespread proxy services abroad to circumvent network blocks – ask any 14-year-old whose school network is censored by blocking software and I guarantee you’ll get an education in how to evade this kind of thing. Which is great news if you’re a pirate, but why should sound engineers, doting grandparents, and solicitors have to learn how to evade the Great Firewall in order to conduct their legitimate business?
(Image: Lockers 3, a Creative Commons Attribution file from dizfunkshinal’s photostream)