Web Sheriff Upset at Losing Potential Business Tools.

The Infamous Web Sheriff, John Giacobbi, has today posted an impassioned plea on HuffPost today, about how some aspects of the Digital Economy Act not being implemented are really bad. Of course, he forgets that the law as it is, isn’t killing the industry now.

HuffPost only allows a 250 word response though, so I thought I’d put the entire response here.

Ah, Mr Web Sheriff. You, yet again, make all these sire claims about how the industry will die, and yet, you conveniently forget to include a SINGLE PIECE OF EVIDENCE. In fact, you have ignored all the evidence that actually shows your talking points to be as truthful as the geocentric model of the universe, and for much the same reasons. Of course, if your past history was pointed out, we could let readers decide for themselves.

In 2007, you ‘represented‘ Prince. You sent letters to people saying ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Netherlands, we can sue you in the US’, ignoring the basics of Jurisdiction – something a first year law student should know (if you want it explained, John Steele, another ‘copyright protector’ in the US can explain it – he’s had to drop most of his cases because they were in the wrong district, let alone the wrong country), and earlier you’d made a claim when ‘protecting’ the White Stripes, that “your refusal to act, opens you and your company up to the possibility of law suits in – inter alia – the United States and the United Kingdom. Such law suits could result in your being refused entry to both the US and the UK“. In this letter, you also claim that publishing the letter would be a violation of copyright. I mean, I can understand why you’d not want it published, because it actually shows your ignorance of the whole topic. And how did your Prince campaign work? Oh yeah, last year Prince decided ‘the internet’s completely over’. Not another successful customer then.

Or maybe we could ask Abba, who you tried to ‘coerce’ into assisting you with a Swedish lawsuit (that I don’t remember going anywhere), coupled with, yet again, a LACK of knowledge about jurisdiction, claiming you’ll sue someone in Sweden AND the US, because the site’s available there. Well, it’s available in every country of the world, that’s how the internet works, so you missed out on 161 other lawsuits, one for every other signer of the Berne Convention (you can’t do Antigua, since it’s been excused having to abide by US copyrights, a lot like the US did with non-US copyrights in its early days)

Or there was your Franz Ferdinand campaign, where you decided to represent them just after they’d confessed to piracy, and urged their fans to download their latest track via limewire, When someone asked you for clarification on this, you started threatening them. As you did to someone else, who pointed out they couldn’t comply with your demand, because it was factually faulty, you responded with”

You must also arrange for the following apology to be published on the relevant page of the site for a period of seven (7) days : “RSLOG wishes to apologies to Franz Ferdinand, Domino Records and Web Sheriff for the disruption caused to their sales, marketing and promotion plans by our publishing of pirate file details relating to the unreleased album “Tonight”.

RLSLOG, not RSLOG, as was pointed out, and a site which vastly eases your job by listing new releases, which is a LONG way from any sort of copyright infringement, as anyone with the slightest basis in copyright law would know. Nevertheless, despite complying with your wishes, you still decided to file a false claim with their host to take them down.

Of course, my favourite claim of yours, has to be the one against Jamie Oliver. As part of the promo for his show “Jamie’s American Road Trip” he dressed as each of the members of the Village People, which represent most of the American people, stylistically, between them. You believed this was ‘trademark infringement’. Funnily enough, when Channel 4 decided not to back down at your empty threat, you gave up. Almost as if you knew you had no chance, but had to try bluster, to say you tried.

I myself used to be in the copyright enforcement business. It was people just like you that made me get out around 2000. Legally ignorant, vexatious people, in it for the money, rather than for the love of the arts. In fact, I’ve seen you described as ‘bullies for hire, with a legal dictionary’.

If you want to fix ‘piracy’, John, here’s a hint. Address the cause, rather than the symptoms. If you lose a finger doing something, demanding that the digit be re-attached doesn’t help, if you continue to do what severed the finger. You talked about radio, but you forgot that radio was treated at first, as the internet is now. Likewise tapes, TV, photoocopiers, etc. Or should I point out what you missed out on that? That COMPOSERS get radio royalties, as do PUBLISHERS, but ARTISTS get squat. Or that royalties are paid to collection groups, even if you’re not signed up to them, and don’t want them collecting for you, where it’s often given to the majors?

And your first point… maybe you didn’t read OFCOM’s report, about how the blocking doesn’t work. I mean you did read the law, rather than just a quick high-points press release? OFCOM have followed it, and found it unworkable. One of the reasons is…. The US and UK Governments! The same systems you wanted used to block piracy, are the exact same methods used in places like China, and Libya to stifle free speech and political dissent. To counter this, circumvention methods have been tried, tested and distributed to counter these blocks, meaning they’re absolutely useless here.

The other reason is companies like yours. You’ve shown a marked indifference to legal facts, or actual facts in your claims. Yet the law, as written, would have let you censor swathes of the web as you deemed fit, according to whoever was paying you. Who could think that was a good idea? And of course, last weeks revelations that much of the DEAct was pushed forward because of private meetings between the head of a music label, and Mandelson. Meetings that focused, much as your piece has, on claims which have turned out to be fictious (who can forget the claims that the music industry was being decimated, when singles sales had been up 30%+ per year for 5 years, and 2009 was the best year ever for the music industry)

If you want someone to really feel sorry for your position, that a handy tool you could market (that incidentally trampled all over free speech) has been denied, then you need to try harder. Oh, and tell reality to stop contradicting your talking points, because nothing makes you seem like an unprincipled opportunist, rather than someone ‘looking out for artists’, when you take money from artists, but fail to deliver.

Of course, you’d be much happier with a digital version of the Red Flag Act (aka Locomotives Act 1865, which required all traction engines to an absurdly low top speed, and require a man with a flag or lamp to walk in front, to ‘warn’ of it’s approach, so as to protect the incumbent transport industries) especially since that would then make you a person that enforced the flags. Surprised I am not.

Andrew Norton (@ktetch)

We’ll see how, or if, he responds.

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