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Headless Chickens or Headless Americans

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This week, a landmark ruling in the High Court ordered British Telecom to block access to the notorious, 'free' movies web-site Newzbin2. I say "free", but - even though Newzbin members can freely access many thousands of pirated films once they have joined - Newzbin actually charges subscription fees ... .. which is a bit like someone who's nicked a trolley-load of DVDs from their local branch of WH Smiths, setting-up a stall on the pavement outside and flogging them to the public. Of course, in our 'pavement' scenario, PC Plod would be along soon enough with his truncheon and handcuffs, to cart our felonious miscreant away (or at least as soon as he'd finished his drink with his contact at News International).

On the interweb, however, not only are Newzbin seemingly beyond-the-law (being registered in the Seychelles - although that pre-supposes that they don't actually have laws in the Seychelles, which is clearly nonsense), but they have been allowed to get-away with running a multi-million pound business by selling other peoples' movies. Step-in the 'Motion Picture Association' (whisper it quietly - "of America") and good ol' Justice Arnold - not Riddley / 'Godfrey' of Dad's Army fame we hope - and common sense and unanimity prevail. Right ?! Well, not quite ... .. that guardian of monopolistic rights - sorry, consumer protection - otherwise known as British Telecom, stepped-in and fought this action tooth-and-claw through the High Court.

Why would BT or any other Internet Service Provider bother - and, more to the point, why should we bother - I hear you ask ? Especially when BT have already evolved their CleanFeed technology, that thankfully enables them to filter-out the child pornography that would otherwise be a few clicks away from every living room in the country. If they can do this, then we know that digital fingerprint technology also means that they can filter-out Hollywood movies and, for that matter, pirate copies of the latest albums by artist-clients such as Adele, Lady Gaga and Beyonce - whose albums Web Sheriff has been obliged to protect because ISPs simply shrug their shoulders.

I call this syndrome "ISP Apathy", not that wasting hundreds-of-thousands of Pounds of shareholders' money on fighting a pointless battle against rights owners is exactly apathetic. But it points towards a wider malaise ... .. being an 'ISP' / Internet Service Provider is big business these days and, globally, is literally worth billions ... .. so let the site-hosting and the money roll-in and, if some of the sites being hosted are a bit on the 'dodgy' side, well that's what their published 'Acceptable Use Policy' is for ... .. just don't expect any of them to voluntarily do anything about enforcing their 'AUP' without A LOT of legal arm-twisting. The most graphic example of this was when Web Sheriff was asked to close-down a series of sites that hosted 'videos' (if you can call them that) of Western hostages being beheaded by their captors in Iraq - Ken Bigley, Eugene Armstrong et al RIP. We traced these to a group of sites under the grotesque moniker, 'HeadlessAmerican.com' and, worse still, they were being hosted by an American Internet Service Provider !! When we quoted their Acceptable Use Policy to them and pointed-out how hosting videos of hostage executions was, in bowling parlance, 'over-the-line', they attempted to justify this gruesome trade on the grounds of freedom-of-speech. Needless-to-say, after 48 hours and a lot of freedom-of-speech in both directions, the ISP relented and closed the sites down.

The point to all of this is that not everyone has a Web Sheriff to fight-their-corner ... .. so, if your children are being cyber-bullied, or being exposed to paedophile material, or being lured into the vortex of suicide 'chat-rooms', you'll know who to blame ... .. THE GOVERNMENT ... .. television and radio have been tightly regulated for decades ... .. newspapers for over a century (not that you'd know it from recent events) ... .. and yet, the internet - the most powerful medium the world has ever known - is effectively a free-for-all where anything goes.

It would be VERY easy to regulate the internet - just oblige ISPs to regularly audit sites that they host and, equally importantly, ensure that people are obliged to provide full contact information when they register a web-site (you need to do this when you open a business, or even a bank account - so why not a web-site ??) ... .. for now, however, the UK and US governments seem to run-around like headless chickens when it comes to internet regulation, not wanting to offend anti-copyright groups and handsomely paid ISP lobbyists ... .. and, sadly, while this rigor mortis continues, we'll continue to have headless Americans as well.