14 July 2009

Hamburg Declaration = Humbug Declaration

You may have noticed that in the 10 years since Napster, the music industry has succeeded in almost completely ruining its biggest opportunity to make huge quantities of money, alienating just about anyone under 30 along the way (and a fair number of us old fogies, too).

Alas, it seems that some parts of the newspaper industry have been doing their job of reporting so badly that they missed that particular news item. For what does it want to do? Follow the music industry's lemming-like plunge off the cliff of "new intellectual property rights protection":

On the day that Commissioner Viviane Reding unveils her strategy for a Digital Europe during the Lisbon Council, and as the European Commission's consultation on the Content Online Report draws to a close this week, senior members of the publishing world are presenting to Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding and Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, a landmark declaration adopted on intellectual property rights in the digital world in a bid to ensure that opportunities for a diverse, free press and quality journalism thrive online into the future.

This is the first press communiqué on a significant meeting convened on 26th June in Berlin by news group Chief Executives from both the EPC and the World Association of Newspapers where the 'Hamburg Declaration' was signed, calling for online copyright to be respected, to allow innovation to thrive and consumers to be better served.

This comes from an extraordinary press release, combining arrogant self-satisfaction with total ignorance about how the Internet works:

A fundamental safeguard of democratic society is a free, diverse and independent press. Without control over our intellectual property rights, the future of quality journalism is at stake and with it our ability to provide our consumers with quality and varied information, education and entertainment on the many platforms they enjoy.

What a load of codswallop. What makes them think they are the sole guardians of that "free, diverse and independent press"? In case they hadn't noticed, the Internet is rather full of "quality and varied information, education and entertainment on the many platforms", most of it quite independent of anything so dull as a newspaper. As many others have pointed out, quality journalism is quite separate from old-style press empires, even if the latter have managed to produce the former from time to time.

Then there's this:

We continue to attract ever greater audiences for our content but, unlike in the print or TV business models, we are not the ones making the money out of our content. This is unsustainable.

Well, at least they got the last bit. But if they are attracting "ever greater audiences" for their content, but are not making money, does this not suggest that they are doing something fundamentally wrong? In a former incarnation, I too was a publisher. When things went badly, I did not immediately call for new laws: I tried again with something different. How about if newspaper publishers did the same?

This kind of self-pitying bleating would be extraordinary enough were it coming out of a vacuum; but given the decade of exemplary failure by the music industry taking *exactly* the same approach, it suggests a wilful refusal to look reality in the face that is quite extraordinary.

Speaking personally, the sooner all supporters of the Humbug Declaration are simply omitted from every search engine on Earth, the better: I'm sure we won't miss them, but they sure will miss the Internet...

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Anonymous said...

Great writeup. Keep up the good work!

Glyn Moody said...

thanks, I'll do my best.