Digital policy according to UK parties, 2015

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First, it’s great to see Glyn Moody, probably the best informed journalist in the world on general “open” issues (there are of course many deeply informed specialists, such as people who write for, and many who write extensively about “digital freedom” but tend to give less direct attention to open production and policy) writing for Ars Technica. Probably nobody better to surface what political parties are saying that would be pertinent to WIFO-esque concerns. This he does.

3 paragraphs on copyright & patents on the first page of the article, starting with:

Copyright has a disproportionately large effect in the online world because of the inherent clash between a 300-year-old intellectual monopoly that seeks to prevent copying and a modern digital communications technology that is built on it. So it’s disappointing to see little awareness in the party manifestos of the problems this tension causes.

No surprise, but well put.

The Liberal Democrats say they are: “supporting modern and flexible patent, copyright and licensing rules,” without specifying what that might mean. The Greens want to “Make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software,” which is slightly better defined.

The Green statement seems very well defined to me, ignoring “fair and flexible”: “copyright shorter in length” and “prevent patents applying to software” would each constitute a sea change, even if they are simply in no-brainer territory. The main improvement that could be made to the Green statement (apart from advocating abolition; but shorter and not for software are in the right direction) would be to directly favor commons-based/open production in the various ways this can be done (they do in one small way, mentioned below; sadly this isn’t usually seen as copyright reform proper).

Moody quotes the UK Pirate Party:

“We will work for copyright reform and reduce copyright terms to 10 years to balance everyone’s needs.”

“seeks to abolish these laws, making it legal both to circumvent “effective technological measures” and produce, distribute, and possess tools to aid in doing so.”

It’s quite disappointing (though now usual) to see Pirate Parties parroting the “balance” line. They’ve put forth a totally unrealistic proposal while still managing to grant the freedom restricting regime all the legitimacy it does not deserve.

Abolishing DRM anti-circumvention laws is also no-brainer territory. The Greens should add this, and the Pirates should also add commons-favoring policy.

Apparently the bigger parties say next to nothing on copyright or patent. I believe the most useful step for each of them would be to adopt some commons-favoring policy. Wikimedians have some good recommendations at the EU level, and Italy’s recent explicit preference to the acquisition of Free Software is something to copy.

On page 2 Moody covers something almost all parties say they’re excited about:

There’s one other area found in many of the parties’ manifestos, and it’s a slightly surprising one: Open government and open data. The appearance here of commitments to more openness is testimony to how powerful and pervasive the idea has become.

I’m not surprised. In most cases access to public sector data doesn’t threaten large IP regime incumbents, nor anyone else politically potent; it’s uncontroversial good government. Kudos to open government and open data folk who have gotten it to this point, especially those who are trying to get politically interesting datasets released. Hopefully some of these “commitments to more openness” will soon translate to additional commitments to openness (with similar justifications, eg transparency and public subsidy means public gets access) such as science and culture funding and government procurement. On that note, the Green statement:

touches on a subject not mentioned by anyone else: “Use government purchasing power to support open standards in information technology.” That’s an important approach that can reduce the costs of government computing dramatically by avoiding the familiar lock-in to proprietary programs, which eliminates choice and thus competitive pressures to bring down costs. UK governments have been moving towards implementing the idea for years, but there’s still some way to go.

The faster open standards (and much more powerfully, open source) become a matter of simple good governance, the better: as by far the largest customer in almost every jurisdiction, government demand for freedom as a feature tangibly restructures the knowledge economy away from production that relies on freedom infringing regimes.

This from Moody’s penultimate paragraph is also great:

The political parties’ manifestos offer a fascinating snapshot not just of the respective interests of different groups, but also of digital technology’s march towards the center of politics. Nowadays, you can tell a lot about a party by looking at how it proposes to address the complex new issues being raised by the Internet and its impact on society

Indeed! (The article also covers various other digital policy issues.)