Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Captains and Pirates: SOPA and all that

Online piracy is actually a problem. Music has been hit hardest: fewer breakthrough artists than ever over the last few years.

Film is suffering too. Hollywood is blighting us with more and more sequels - and why? Because sequels are so less risky - and when revenues are being squeezed because potential customers are getting it for free, risk is something investors and producers are looking to reduce. The flipside is that great, popular films like Zombieland might not get sequels at all because of piracy (warning: that link is a rant).

It's a massive issue in the gaming community too. And the book publishing industry will be the next victim.

The Wrong Law
But certain captains of industry in the US are trying to roll back to some imagined Halcyon days when they could control how their content is used. A bill called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act - US bills need to market themselves in the political culture over the pond) is soon to be debated which will give copyright owners crippling power over websites which just link to allegedly copyright material. (I say allegedly because, as I read it, little due process will be required to block a site.)

The bill will allow for control of DNS entries in the US, so that access to a domain name can be removed. It will stop that domain name being accessible - buit in actual fact all you would then need is the IP address in order to access the site. So it would make piracy harder, but not by much. I'm sure tools will be created two help 'pirates' - for example bookmarks will record IP addresses so you can get back to a site even when its domain name has been blocked. It's as if the government could delete a contact in your phone - but all you need to get back in touch is to know their phone number.

Wikipedia is protesting it, and Obama's apparently on their side, so hopefully this particular law won't get through. But it's not the only piece of wrong-headed legislation that will come out.

Protect and Pay Creativity
But I said 'piracy' (a phrase which interestingly has negative and positive connotations depending on whether you are rich or poor) needs to be dealt with.

Although it's nice for us 'consumers of content' that we can get free stuff, we need to have a realistic long-term view. If musicians, actors, directors, authors and artists don't get paid - well, some of them might carry on creating the pieces of art that we love, but it won't bring them their daily bread.

Perhaps you'd argue that it would be a great loss if those artists who are in it for the money stopped working. But do you really want your favourite author behind a till in Asda, publishing online for free because only a few hardcore fans are willing to pay them to write?

Piracy's a problem, but laws like SOPA are the wrong solution. This is Hollywood and the music industry trying to control the content, when really they should be just making sure their artists get paid for it.

Dear Captains of Industry,
There are alternatives. For example, set up agreed royalties with an organisation like PRS, and send providers a bill for royalties. Those giving away your content for free will soon need to work out how to make it pay.

Work out how to change the culture of young people. It's difficult for them to link the artists' hard work with a product which is an electronic file - work out how to do that.

Make everything freely available on legitimate sites, with enough advertising to pay for it - as TV on demand already does. I know you're maximising revenue of DVD sales and the like, but get with the program, make friends and not enemies of your potential customers.


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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Go and vote! #referendum

Whichever way you've swung, I urge you to vote today.

I will be voting Yes. Not because the Alternative Vote is perfect, but because First Past the Post is a broken system and we need change.

If AV is all we're being offered, I vote for reform.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Voting Reform 12: A spoilt ballot for a spoilt system? #referendum

I know a lot of people who are not for AV, and therefore voting for FPTP. That's because there's been no debate about different systems.

We're only being offered a choice of two. you might say we're not exactly being spoilt for choice when it comes to voting systems...

If neither AV nor FPTP are your cup of tea, when you vote tomorrow, you can always write your preferred system at the bottom with an 'X' by it.

That'll be a spoilt ballot, but you'll have voted with your convictions!

Voting Reform 11: Another name for AV... #referendum

The better name for AV is Instant Run-Off voting.

In the first round, everyone votes for the candidate they want to win. If no one gets an outright majority of 50%, there is a second round.

The definite loser is eliminated, and essentially everyone votes again (it's 'instant' because we only need to go to the polls once). If your candidate was last, you vote for your second preference. If not, your vote remains with your first.

So in each round you vote for your first candidate unless they're no longer in the race, in which case you vote for your next preference, and so on.

It carries on like this until someone wins properly - not just with 25 or 30% of the vote, as can and does happen now.

We go to the polls once, but all of our votes are counted as many times as necessary for one candidate to win with a majority. Everyone's votes are counted in each round!

Voting Reform 10: How complicated is AV? #referendum

The Alternative Vote is accused of being overcomplicated.

There are three ways a voting system can be complicated:

1. In the booth
On the day, the only difference is marking one candidate with an X, or numbering the candidates in order of preference. AV is really not that complicated - the Yes campaign's slogan 'AV is as easy as 1, 2, 3' is correct.

2. On election night
True, some results under AV would take longer to count - which some argue will take the drama out of our traditional election night. Candidates can still win on the first round, which will take exactly the same amount of time to count. Those which take longer are taking the time necessary to work out who is the most popular candidate, which is a worthwhile task.

3. Before you vote
Stepping back a bit, what FPTP supporters fail to mention when explaining the counting systems of AV, is how complicated it can be working out who to vote for under FPTP.

Experienced voters in this country are used to looking at last election's figures to work out whether they can afford to vote for their preferred candidate or not. Often voters want to stop a particular party from winning, so end up voting for the next most popular, regardless of whether that's the candidate they want.

This is tactical voting, and is basically eliminated under AV. AV will allow us to go and vote first for the candidate we want to win, simply and honestly.

AV would remain a simple, paper-based system. It would take a bit longer to count some seats, but that is a worthwhile investment to find the right candidate.

The main complexity is in deciding now whether the system is preferable to FPTP. Once you've decided whether it's a better system, you don't have to think much about the tactical element of voting - just vote 1, 2, 3, and leave it up to the counters to figure out who the people have chosen.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Voting Reform 9: The Best Argument for First Past The Post #referendum

I was happy with the result of the 2010 election.

Why? The country got the government it voted for, more or less. The nation's mood was definitely against Gordon, but many were still against the Conservatives (Thatcher inspired long memories). After the first TV debate, everyone agreed with Nick - so we ended up with a coalition built on compromise.

But it was all a bit of an accident. The Lib Dems actually got 23% of the vote, not far behind Labour's 29%, but had 57 seats, compared to Labour's 258. Yep: 201 more seats for an extra 6% of the vote. Gower's Weblog discusses the historical figures in more detail.

No2AV's best argument is that AV would result in more coalitions. It's probably right - because that's what people would vote for if they voted honestly instead of tactically.

But, they say, coalitions are weak! This government shows that a coalition can govern strongly. Unfortunately, governing strongly is not the same as governing well.

FPTP's 'strong' government are often minority governments, in the sense that a minority of voters choose them. When they tell you that AV will result in more coalition governments, they're telling you that they don't want a majority of people to decide on a government. They're happy with a minority deciding, as long as it's a 'strong' one.
'I believe in First Past The Post and I will be voting yes to AV as I think the post should be at 50%.' (Ray Wilkes, writing in to The Independent.)

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Monday, 2 May 2011

Voting Reform 8: Isn't there another way? #referendum

Sunday Times: 'Roy Jenkins, whose Jenkins commission in 1998 recommended AV supported by a proportional 'top up', said that AV by itself could make any election outcome as 'disturbingly unpredictable' as the current system.'

If 'AV+' was the system recommended by a Parliamentary commission, why on earth is it only a 'miserable little compromise' we're voting on?

It's simply because that's all that was on the table when the Con-Lib coalition was formed. This is in many ways a false debate - we're not even discussing a set of options.

Ostensibly the referendum is as a choice between AV and FPTP. Actually I think it's a choice between reform and no reform. A No vote will effectively kill any chance of voting reform for our generation.

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Sunday, 1 May 2011

Voting Reform 7: Would MPs be less accountable under AV? #referendum

One argument for a No vote is that AV makes coalition governments more likely, and coalitions are weaker and less accountable.

As I've said, this particular coalition is not a weak government. It may be incompetent and inexperienced, but not weak. This government has suffered from its members' lack of experience and its parties' long time in the wilderness. But strong leadership and genuine compromise have lead to swift action.

A friend of mine argued that coalition compromises are often just a good excuse for politicians to break promises.

Clegg's unfortunate / poorly judged tuition fees stance was a large compromise and sacrifice for the coalition. And is Clegg going to be held accountable?

In the 2005 election I lived in a heavily student-based constituency: Headingley in Leeds. Greg Mulholland was elected there, taking the seat from a retiring Labour candidate.

His seat is in great jeopardy now - students in a fee years time (or sooner?) will look at their Student Loans Company statements and take out their anger on their Lib Dem representative. Labour will return and Clegg will receive some payback for his betrayal of students.

This will happen under AV just as much as FPTP - perhaps even more so, as the candidate needs wider approval, and Lib Dems in this example are less likely to receive second preference votes from students after the tuition fees debacle.

Accountability will be just as strong under AV.

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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Voting Reform 6: Do we need an active vote? #referendum

Further to my last post, the only odd scenario I can find is where a vast majority put the last-place candidate as second preference.

So no-one wanted them as their first choice, but actually everyone's happy with them as a second choice. But they can't be elected because they're eliminated first. Better everyone's second choice than half of the voters' first choice?

There is a system which would elect that candidate. It's called 'approval voting', and was recently chosen as the best voting system at a conference of psephologists.

Basically, voters just put an x next to as many candidates as they approve of - whoever receives the most approval votes wins.

It's a good system, but that's not really an active vote - it relegates the role of the voter somewhat.

I think it's probably better to have the candidate who has a combination of a strong base of supporters (first preference votes) plus a decent approval rate among non-supporters (second preference votes). That makes AV a middle ground between approval and FPTP.

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