It's been a good couple of weeks for attending things and learning stuff. In the National Museum there was a day-long seminar on matters geological, where I learned all manner of fascinating facts about rocks. The National Library had a talk on Robert Boyle, which elucidated on his work in the field of medicine, of which I previously knew nothing. And yesterday I was in the Science Gallery, listening to a debate on the future of copyright. At that I learned I should buy shares in EMI.
Attended as it was by our beloved minister for innovation, Sean Sherlock, I was looking forward to a bit of haranguing of the poor fool. But there's no point in uninformed haranguing, so I spent the evening reading up on the various aspects that I felt worthy of mention. I even reread the damn consultation document on copyright (pdf on DJEI website), and it was boring enough the first time around.
Of course, Sherlock wasn't making it easy for himself; the day before he said he wouldn't be there if one of the scheduled participants was allowed. It was a foolish thing to do, but this was obviously pointed out to him and he withdrew his objection. Which was nice.
Anyway, the plan was for the four speakers to have their say, then open it up to the audience. And so it went. Really, though, it was just the Minister and Tom Murphy of boards.ie ; everyone else was just along for the ride.
Unfortunately, they were talking about two different things.
Sherlock was there to talk about the consultation document on copyright; Murphy was there to talk about the statutory instrument that Sherlock previously signed into law. And to have a go at EMI.
In fairness, Murphy's points were well made, and it was obvious that his concerns were legitimate; the SI is an appalling text, a half-arsed transcription of an EU requirement. No thought went into it, and it kept boards.ie and other facilitators of internet speech in the same legal limbo they were in previously. Sherlock kept trying to frame his answers in terms of the forthcoming rewrite of copyright law, and as such his answers satisfied no one.
Oh yeah. There were two other speakers. They said something vague and platitudinous, but no one remembers what.
Anyway, on to the audience questions. This was what I was waiting for. Surely among this crowd there were a few people with enough technical nous to be able to frame some proper questions? There were certainly enough fingers tapping on twitter feeds throughout.
First question came from a reporter for the Metro. Given that we've seen rights agencies in other jurisdictions sue grannies who never heard of bittorrent for downloading porn and send threatening letters to networked printers, surely this was going to be a hard-hitting question about the dangers of getting it wrong? Given that there were only about twenty minutes scheduled for questions and answers, he wasn't going to waste our time on something trivial.
Not a fucking chance.
Given the choice between asking about, say, how we could protect ourselves from media companies who'll cheerfully remove stuff they don't own from the internet and asking a pointless question about the Minister's reversing his decision on attendance, which do you suppose our friend decided to waste everyone's time on?
No wonder the fucking paper is free. If this is the level of reportage on which it has to rely, I only hope the prick with the question wasn't getting paid either.
Sherlock gave a reasonable answer, but the muttering had begun and my heart was sinking. This was going to be a fiasco.
And lo, it came to pass.
Next question was from a woman who represented a bunch of musicians. If her members didn't like the law, she asked, would the minister change it? Being a minister of the government and a public figure, of course, he couldn't give the obvious answer: "don't be fucking stupid." Instead, he tried to explain in reasonable terms why she was being fucking stupid. The dipshits in the crowd started calling out "say yes or no!" and I knew all hope of a debate - or even a reasonable question - was gone.
As the hour wore on, it became increasingly obvious that a twitter account doesn't confer sophistication; it just turns retarded chimpanzees into retarded chimpanzees who can type on a phone. The same points were made and remade, with Murphy being quite entertaining, albeit with little to add to his original speech. Sherlock, naif that he is, kept trying to return to the point he was trying to make, with little regard for the change in circumstances. The gobshites, though, just kept their ill-informed catcalling going. I was a little pissed off a Murphy's implication that there was no point in making a submission to the consultation panel as they weren't going to be listened to, but I was obviously the only one; everyone else gave him a round of fucking applause.
So: was it a success? For many, it doubtless was. As we left, I was surrounded by self-satisfied pricks who were preening as they thought about how they'd stuck it to the Minister. If you were hoping for any mention - any mention at all - of the fact that the graduated response process is heavily weighted against ordinary users, of the fact that the rights agencies continue to use a process if identifying copyright infringers by IP address that they stated themselves didn't work, then you were going to leave bitterly disappointed.
If I were the head of EMI watching the proceedings being streamed, I'd have been sitting there chortling, rubbing myself frantically at the thought that the Irish people were more interested in hassling a well-meaning but clueless minister than they were in ensuring that any control over copyright was put into law.
If this is the best we can do, we all deserve to be fucked over.