Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 17/04/09

Triple Trouble

(Yes, things have been quiet here of late: it's Spring, you see, and I must take part in that annual test of creative tension between encouraging some things to grow whilst trying to prevent other things from growing at all. My War On Dandelions is of the attritional variety, and is taking up an inordinate amount of my free time)

Three items to remark upon, each linked - if somewhat tenuously - with the other in a way which describes the matrix into which our society has been squashed in recent years:

Item: the snotrag of lies woven by the police and their bureaucratic and media chums becomes more and more threadbare by the day. The latest (as I type this, at least) is that the all-too-quick-and-convenient opinion of a Home Office pathologist that Ian Tomlinson died of 'natural causes' has been dismissed by a pathologist engaged by the 'Independent' Police Complaints Commission and by Mr Tomlinson's family. The re-examination finds that death was due to 'abdominal haemorrhage'.

The next step, of course, will be to find out why the bleeding occurred, and whether being shoved violently to the (concrete) ground whilst you have your hands in your pockets might constitute plausible cause. Either way, the still strangely-unidentified policeman who was responsible (can you imagine a demonstrator going unidentified by the media this long?) is now being questioned on a possible manslaughter charge.

Add to this the increasing evidence of further police thuggery around the G20 protests, and the fact that the latest conveniently-timed 'swoop' on 'Islamic fundamentalist terrorists' intent on launching a 'major atrocity over the Easter holidays' has turned out so far to be an embarrassment involving a few photographs of public buildings in Manchester, a few sachets of sugar and some Pakistani students who were here completely lawfully, and it's turning out to be A Bad Time for the securocrats and fear-spreaders.

Item: but never mind, you can always rely on a good cover-up from a committee of 'safe' people to ensure that things go on much as before.

Margaret Haywood was a nurse. She worked at Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton.

She became increasingly concerned at the neglect of elderly patients at the hospital. She raised the matter on at least two occasions with the hospital's management. They, typical of today's breed of self-regarding plastic samurai, sat on their fat salaries and did nothing to rectify the problems.

So what was a conscientious member of what are, I'm afraid, called nowadays the caring professions to do? Keep her gob shut and let the abuse continue? Keep banging her head against the wall of her managers' callous indifference? No, she went to the media. The BBC Panorama programme agreed to let her secretly film some of the things which went on.

The resulting programme was screened nearly four years ago and led, amongst other things, to a greater awareness of the awful treatment of the vulnerable in our society.

One would have thought that, in any sane and rational society, nurse Haywood would have been hailed for her courage in sticking to her guns and ensuring that the scandal became public knowledge in order that something positive might finally be done.

Unfortunately for her (and for us, and for the victims of the abuse she helped uncover), we live in an insane and irrational society, which is run by many of its most insane and irrational members. Which is why, on Wednesday of this week, Margaret Haywood was struck off the nursing register after twenty years.

In its judgment, the Nursing and Midwifery Council found her guilty of what it called 'misconduct' and 'breach of confidentiality'. Its spokesbeing, one Linda Read, said:

"A patient should be able to trust a nurse with his/her physical condition and psychological wellbeing...Although the conditions on the ward were dreadful, it was not necessary to breach confidentiality to seek to improve them...The registrant could have attempted to address shortcomings by other means. But this was never a course of action which she fully considered."

She did fully consider it, you jumped up little cunt! She told her managers about her concerns more than once, and she was ignored. What else more could she do before deciding that what was going on was so contrary to her medical ethics that more drastic means of bringing them to attention had to be tried?

(This is the same organisation which, less than six months ago, found that nurse Haywood had not broken the policy of the hospital 'Trust' (what a warped word that is to use in the context!) as regards to whistle-blowing)

And what has happened to the 'managers' at the Royal Sussex? Oh, they issued a bland apology under the LWBL system ("Lessons Will Be Learned"), but there's no evidence that I can find of any of them being removed from their jobs as a result of their arse-covering incompetence. Indeed, I'm sure any of them who have since left have been generously rewarded for their trauma.

In the same way that politicians and bureaucrats - state and local - use 'official secret' or 'data protection' or (increasingly in our monetised society) 'commercial confidentiality' to seek to cover up their incompetence, slovenliness or outright corruption, so too do the governing bodies of the 'professions' use these weaseloid terms to cover up their own self-serving, buttock-regarding cowardice. So it is that those in positions of power are effectively immune from the consequences of their actions (or lack of them). Most organisations in the public and commercial sphere have - supposedly - policies to enable wrongdoing to be reported. In practice, however, the procedures which are provided are nothing more than instruments of delay, obfuscation and for the identifying of those who refuse to go along with the consensus of silence which enables malfeasance to be committed in the first place and to continue unameliorated. To complain through those processes is usually to do nothing more than to mark you out for victimisation, bullying, and for being placed on one of those nod-and-a-wink blacklists whose existence is always denied but is evident from the experience of those who have tried to expose such problems. The powerful will, ultimately, continue to act to protect themselves rather than anyone or anything else. The system will always protect the system.

In such ways have stupidity, incompetence and corruption grown, and will continue to grow.

Item: Speaking of stupidity, incompetence and corruption brings me, naturally, to the recording industry.

It is well enough known now, I think, that the music biz is stuck in a timewarp and a state of total denial regarding the technological developments of the last ten to fifteen years. But then again, that's how they've been for far longer than that. The old methods of music distribution - whereby the companies signed someone up, loaned them the money to make recordings, then grabbed back the money (and much more) from the takings from sales, whilst tying the performer up in contracts which were often little more than legalised slavery - were never going to survive the coming of the Digital Age™. New media were available for disseminating the 'product', and new ways of taking advantage of them needed to be found.

Needless to say, the corporate bean-counters who have been running the show all these years didn't see any need to change. Having raked in billions from the mid-1980s when they managed to persuade people with collections of vinyl to fork out a second time (and at far higher prices) for the supposedly superior quality of the Compact Disc (although the technical quality of what was actually on the disc was seldom even equal to the original, let alone better than it), they clearly thought that - like the property bubble - it would just grow and grow, dosh without end, amen, and that people would be sufficiently gullible, docile or just plain dumb to hold still for it.

It didn't turn out that way, though. Nimbler, more technically aware people saw the possibilities and sought to capitalise on them. The coming of the .mp3 and file-sharing applications meant that - at minimal cost of bandwidth - you could find that elusive single from the seventies you'd been scouring record fairs and auctions for for the previous twenty years; or serendipitously discover an artist or a style of music you hadn't been aware of; or get that one special track which, otherwise, you would have had to spend £15 for a CD otherwise full of dross to get hold of.

The record companies, not surprisingly, started shitting sticks when they realised that not only was this new distribution method very effective, it was totally beyond their control, largely because they had been too coccooned and coked-up to notice. Their old way of doing things had worked (for them) for nearly fifty years - why change?

And so, in screams of panic and in deference to the age-old Law of Crisis Management which states "When in danger or in doubt / Run in circles, scream and shout", these corporations started thrashing around in attempts not to join the new reality, but to attempt to beat it into submissive silence.

The first thing they did was to suborn the political process. In the US and - increasingly - Europe, their lobbying, accompanied by bleating about the threat to the viability of what they call 'the creative industries' (which makes it sound like a wood-carvers' co-op) and their naked bribery of influential legislators resulted in the passing of such abortions as the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the contemporaneous Copyright Term Extension Act (the handiwork of Sonny Bono, the hippy star who ended up as the ultimate tree-hugger), and in the implementation of cognate legislation elsewhere. These gave the 'rights owners' effective carte blanche to get their own way by bullying and threatening anyone - individual or collective - who dared try to usurp their position.

(That phrase 'rights owners' needs a little clarification. Although the authors of the recorded work - the songwriters, for example - are deemed to hold the 'moral rights' to that work, the real power is in the hands of those who own the recordings themselves; that is to say, the record companies. It is those in the latter category which all this legislation was designed to insulate)

And so we have had the sight of the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) and their Hollywood equivalent the MPAA suing individuals left, right and centre in order to block methods of music distribution which do not bring profit to the 'rights holders' (in the second sense referred to above). Usually, just the threat of litigation has been enough - particularly in countries such the US where those of modest means simply cannot afford legal assistance - to extort thousands of dollars from people without the corporations ever even having to prove their case in court.

This way of behaving - along with the even more hysterical assertions from 'the biz' that 'piracy' is helping to fund everything from the drug trade to Al Qaeda (I can just see Osama touting unofficial copies of Britney's latest album, can't you?) has, not unnaturally, pissed off a good many people; so much so that the RIAA have now claimed that they're not doing that sort of thing any more (although the evidence points far more in the opposite direction).

And so, having finally realised that technology was the source of what they perceived to be their problem, the corporate cartels decided that they would use technology in order to try to stop people hearing music without paying their hyper-inflated prices for it. So they implemented so-called copy-protection programs or, to render it in the official Bollocksese, 'Digital Rights Management' (DRM). This basically entailed crippling the disc either with software which meant that you couldn't play a CD on your PC without it being reduced in quality and available only through a proprietary software media player (when you could get the bastard thing to play at all, of course. And heaven help you if you weren't running Windows - some DRM software actually destroyed Apple Macs); or, alternatively, by installing invasive and dangerous files on your computer - even down to the operating system level (put 'Sony Rootkit' into your search engine of choice for the most infamous instance of this).

The practical upshot of it all was that a CD which you had legally bought could often only be played properly (or at all) on a CD player (and sometimes not even then, or not without difficulty due to conflicts with the player's error-correction systems, as I once found to my cost). So, if you wanted to play the disc on your in-car machine, you couldn't. If you wanted to transfer the files to your portable mp3 player, you couldn't.

(The movie 'biz' has done something very similar with their diabolical 'regional encoding', which means that you are tied to one market (and hence, one price - the studios'), and if what you want hasn't been released in your 'region', then tough. Very few countries in the developed world have had the guts to say 'no' to this rip-off - Australia being one)

This, too, has been an ignoble failure, and DRM in all of its forms is effectively dead as far as music discs are concerned, although it lives on, zombie-like, in 'official' download files.

Finally, the 'biz' - through its international gang of enforcers, the 'International Federation of the Phonographic Industry' (IFPI) - went back to the courts again, with some success. Dozens of sites offering music have been shut down, either by legal action or the threat of it, and Usenet distribution is being targeted by some of the local stooges of IFPI (particularly in countries such as The Netherlands, whose corporate lobbyists belie that country's liberal image).

And then there are 'torrents'.

This piece is going to be long enough without me explaining what a 'torrent' is, so may I refer you to this Wikipedia piece first? Come back when you're ready, y'hear?

Y'all back? Good.

To get a file you want, you need the .torrent file. So, you'll need to know how to find the .torrent file. There are many indexing sites where they can be found. You have Mininova, for example; or Isohunt; or a number of others, some of which require subscription to use.

The most famous (or notorious depending on your views) is The Pirate Bay, based (nominally, at least) in Sweden. The people behind it have attitude, and it was probably that which led to the full force of the recording industry cartel to be brought against it in a recent court case in Stockholm.

The trial was marked by prosecutorial incompetence (the most serious charges were dropped on the second day, they twice tried to introduce evidence which had not been disclosed during pre-trial hearings, and their witnesses were often confused and unconvincing), and after nine days the hearings concluded, with the verdict of the court to be announced later.

It was announced this morning, in fact. Despite the prosecution being all over the place, the judge declared the four defendants - Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde and Carl Lundström - guilty of 'promoting other people's infringement of copyright laws', and sentenced each of them to one year in prison and a combined US$3.6million in fines (about a quarter of what the cartel demanded).

This is not the end, however. The case was held in the Stockholm tingsrätt or district court, and was heard by one single judge. The defendants will appeal, especially as the judge seemed not to have taken any cognisance of the technical evidence he heard.

Consider this: The Pirate Bay has never hosted a copyrighted file. All they do is index .torrent trackers and offer links to these. Think of it as a search engine. Like Google, say. You go to Google's Advanced Search, type something in and then follow it by "file type:.torrent" and you'll get the same information as you would on The Pirate Bay. And yet IFPI and its fellow mobsters don't seem too keen to take on Google. I wonder why?

Consider this also: just because some entries in The Pirate Bay's index link to copyrighted items, it doesn't mean that they all do. In fact, open source software (such as Linux distributions) is widely disseminated via torrents because of their greater resilience in busy network conditions. Going after a torrent index for linking to some copyrighted material is therefore analogous to suing the Ford Motor Company for the fact that most Mondeo drivers are twats. All The Pirate Bay (and similar sites) do is to say to people, "There they are. What you do next is your responsibility".

There's also the issue of the nature of what is termed 'copyright infringement'. In most jurisdictions in the developed world, this is a matter for the civil courts, not the criminal ones, rightly recognising it as a contractual matter between two or more parties rather than something which needs to involve the police.

This is to leave out the issue of the very nature of 'copyright' itself, but I've detained you long enough as it is - perhaps some other Rant.

The four defendants are still at large, and The Pirate Bay endures (largely because most of it is now hosted in a decentralised fashion outside of Swedish jurisdiction). The record companies have won one small skirmish, but ultimately they will lose the war. They will lose it not solely because of their oafish conduct, or their inability to change; but because there are many countries in whose jurisdiction the writ of western corporations does not run. Many .torrent files are hosted in Russia or pseudo-communist China, for example. They will also lose because the tide of technological development is running completely against their discredited and outdated business model. They will lose because they missed the bus.

The success of individual artists in promoting and distributing their music in a way which completely by-passes the corporate dinosaurs (via their own websites, or MySpace, for example) shows the way ahead. Cutting out the middleman - especially when said middleman is obese, retarded, avaricious and corrupt - will always be preferable to giving a bunch of suits an indefinite free ride on the backs of genuinely creative people.

As a tiny shove in that direction, therefore, I have resolved that I will not from now on purchase any music 'product' issued by any corporation or label which is associated with the IFPI. There's a very useful list here which tells me who to avoid in future. Instead, I'll try to support genuinely independent artists.

And I'll carry on downloading, of course. Oh, come on! You didn't expect me to have gone on like this if I didn't download, did you?

Animated smiley bouncing up and down and sticking its tongue out