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I meant to do this as soon as the news about the new LJ terms and conditions emerged[1], but my general slow-motion existence struck once more. Because of the appalling nature of said T&Cs, I'm not willing to log into Livejournal. This means I will no longer be able to read private posts or reply to comments there; I'd prefer not to visit the site at all, and encourage anyone who has not yet done so to join the rest of us on Dreamwidth. I'm currently intending to stop cross-posting, and probably shred my existing LJ entries using [personal profile] crazyscot's tool for the purpose. If you are - for whatever reason - unable or unwilling to join the exodus but would like me to continue crossposting, please comment on this post (on LJ) to let me know[2]; if you have made the move but not reconnected, I'm [personal profile] tigerfort there as well.

[1] If you don't know what I'm talking about, please see this post by [personal profile] crazyscot.

[2] Or email, if you prefer. Please don't send me an LJ message, however - having logged out forever, I can no longer read them.
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Just a quick post nailing together some thoughts:

My working hypothesis, given the evidence from his own statements and his wife's leaked email, is that Gove genuinely stepped into the leadership campaign to stop Johnson, but also that he genuinely doesn't want to be PM. Specifically, he's entered the leadership contest because his presence gives the 1922 committee two candidates (Gove and May) that they can convincingly claim are better candidates than Johnson. That means that Johnson never makes it to the last-two-only election by members (which he might plausibly win) instead being chucked out "with regret" by a group of parliamentary colleagues who are known to loath him. (This calculation is also why Johnson folded immediately. He can't win, and defeated candidates don't get a second chance. Whether he thinks he'll get another opportunity later, or is accepting defeat I don't want to guess.)

Why does this matter to Gove? Well, it's possible that he's genuinely noticed that Johnson would be a shockingly bad PM. But I think Gove has primarily backstabbed Johnson on behalf of someone else: a certain media baron who (according to Sarah Vine) does not regard Johnson as reliably on-side. With Johnson out of the way, the final Tory leader is guaranteed to be someone Murdoch approves of, and who will ensure Murdoch gets what he wants (in the name of "markets", probably).

On the basis of this, I predict that, assuming we wind up with Gove and May as the final two, he will then announce that he's dropping out (in exchange for one of the "great offices of state"). Everything neat and tidy and controlled, with no Johnson and no need for a members' vote. (If they reckon May is a shoe-in, Gove might stay in for the appearance of democracy, but I'm not sure whether they value the appearance of democracy or unity higher.) If one of the others makes it to the final two (unlikely, IMO), then whichever of Gove or May is the official candidate stays in, though I think Gove is the more likely of the two to be knocked out anyway.
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Today's drop in the value of the pound (against the USD, specifically) was, as many people have noted, the largest ever recorded. That's true, but doesn't give a real sense of how unprecedented it is: today's drop - from day's end to day's end - was bigger than the second and third largest drops put together. If you count from yesterday's peak at the start of counting to today's nadir (ie 24-hr high to low), the Leave drop is larger than the second, third, and fourth largest currency crashes in UK history put together.

(For reference, drops two to four are the "Winter of Discontent" in 1978, the UK's ignominious exit from the ERM in 1992, and the 2008 financial crisis, in that order.)

Except that according to Krugman none of that is even remotely true. Which makes me wonder where the BBC (and others reporting the same) got their figures from, given how far off they look to be. (The BBC gives the ERM crash as 4.3%, Krugman says "about a quarter". That's a big difference!)

Correction to the correction: Krugman turns out to be comparing yesterday's single-day change with the longer-term effects of other catastrophes. The original stands. Thanks to [personal profile] ewx for pointing this out.
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Technically, it's not over as I type this, but since the 14 authorities that haven't declared their counts would all need to be in the top 15 remain vote-shares, it doesn't look good. Even in the vanishingly unlikely chance that we do edge the referendum, the country is wrecked, and the world economy looks set to follow; realistically, the singularity has arrived, just not the one we were supposed to be expecting.

I shall continue to hope for the best, but my fears have become much stronger.
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I've just updated my essay on asking about gender and titles with a note that you should never assume you can "work out" someone's gender from other information about them. I'd rather assumed this was obvious, but apparently it isn't. Oh, people.
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So Sentinel News have a post doubting the idea of a Universal Basic Income, consisting of questions the author thinks you should ask of anyone who proposes it. The author asserts that people "are using Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a euphemism for their lack of understanding of welfare, the labour market, and the economy." But the questions she proposes can be asked to varying degrees about any proposed change to our current welfare system, and her comments under those headings pre-suppose that the UBI is intended to be a magical panacea. I've not met anyone who thinks that it would be a complete solution to the problems with our current system (though I'm willing to belive that such people exist, and that she's had to deal with them, because there are idiots everywhere). The real world is complicated, and full of people who are not only complicated, but also imperfect, and all different from one another in both their complexities and imperfections. You can't have a panacea for societal problems, except perhaps in the very smallest groups (though even there I suspect someone will feel hard-done-by).

Do I want a UBI? Well, I want to massively overhaul the current system to make it easier for people to get what they need (fraud is largely a non-problem, despite what some will claim), and to provide better support for those who need more - or different - than just the basics[1]. It could also stand a good deal of simplification, given how mind-bendingly difficult to understand the current arrangements are. A universal basic income could certainly be a part of such an improved-and-simplified system. Is it the best basis to work from in building one? I don't know. But it could certainly be made to work, which is as much as can be said for any other proposal I've seen.

[1] note of personal interest: my partner and I are both disabled, and need extra support because of that. Neither of us is ever likely to be able to work again. I have a very strong personal interest in ensuring a working welfare state.

However, lets go through the questions and supply some answers:
Read more... )

TL,DR? The benefit system needs reworking, as the author of the original piece admits. Any system can be distorted to punish, rather than help, the poor (as the author also acknowledges), and our current system has become seriously distorted.
Our current benefits system held out for 70 years before the context changed significantly enough around it that we need to replace it. How long will UBI last and how will it respond to changing economic and social circumstances that cannot be predicted?

That's a hard question to answer. But it isn't a question that only applies to UBI, it's a question that needs to be asked of every solution anyone proposes. Unfortunately, I suspect that the answer is actually the same in every case - we don't know, because we don't know what the future will hold. We can only do our best to choose the option that gives the best results now.
Is that option going to be a UBI based system? I don't know, but I'm not willing to dismiss the possibility, given the various promising trials around the world. Yes, a UBI by itself is not an adequate social safety net, but no single measure ever will be.

Still TLDR? The benefits system is complicated, and currently broken. It needs fixing, and a UBI could be part of that fixed system. Is it part of the "best" solution? I don't know. I don't even know if there is a "best" solution. But some UBI-including solutions could certainly work.

[NB: responses to comments likely to be slow; I've spent about two days' worth of spoons getting all this on screen since the piece was posted yesterday, and I'm unlikely to have many spare while I recover from the exertion.]
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This is an improved and much shorter revision of this post. As with that one, this one only attempts to deal with answers for a culturally native-english-speaking audience. Also, if there's something in here that you think is wrong/stupid/hurtful, then (a) I'm sorry, that wasn't my intent, and (b) I'd be very grateful if you feel able let me know, so that I can correct my error (and avoid repeating it).

So: you've got a website/survey/business database/list of supporters/whatever, and you want to ask about the gender and title of address for the people on it.

The simplest solution

Don't. Unless you're my chosen medic discussing treatment options[1] or a sociology researcher (or, ok, working for certain government departments who are legally required to ask[2]), you don't need to ask about my gender. Really, you don't. If I'm signing up to your gardening newsletter, my gender, sexuality, skin colour, eye colour and favourite album are all equally relevant. "Doing it right", in this case, means not doing it at all.

Also, if you don't ask, don't assume. I thought this went without saying, but clearly it doesn't. Assuming a gender based on (say) first name is pretty silly, potentially very offensive, and will not make you any friends.

Titles are much the same; you simply don't need to ask about them. The number of people who will be offended by a newsletter addressed "Dear Subscriber" rather than "[title][name]" is pretty small. We know it's all being done by the computer anyway.

[1] in which case, you probably already know the answer; you also hopefully understand that the physical, neurological, and (most often relevant) biochemical issues are rather more complicated than [M/F: choose one]. But that's beyond the scope of this essay.

[2] our laws on the subject need changing, both because said departments generally don't actually have any need to know and because they're usually only allowed to accept "M" or "F" as an answer. But that's beyond the scope of this essay too.

The simplish solution

If you absolutely have to ask - perhaps you actually are a sociology researcher, and the answers are a major part of your research - then you should provide a free-text write-in for people to put their answers in. If you're going to ask about things that form an important part of people's identities, then you should allow them to give the answer that they think is right. Just let people choose whatever title and gender description they want (including none at all; do not insist that the box have something in it) and everyone will be happy.

Making life hard for yourself

Perhaps you need to ask, but aren't able to allow write-in answers, for some reason. Your boss is allergic to them, or your database system only allows four bits per answer, or something. At this point, there isn't a right answer available to you anymore, but you can at least aim for something that doesn't deny the people's existence.


The absolute bare minimum you should be offering in the way of answers here is a set of four: "Male", "Female", "Other", and "Prefer not to say". (If you're not going to offer "Prefer not to say", because the answer is vital to your research, then please make that clear at the start rather than letting me get all the way through answering your questions before closing the tab/binning the form when I find I can't tick a "none of your business" box. My willingness to complete research surveys has been substantially decreased over the years by having my time wasted like that.)

Note that "Other" and "Prefer not to say" are not the same, and can never be combined. Someone who ticks "prefer not to say" almost certainly self-identifies as something (whether that be M, F, some combination of those, or something else), but doesn't want to tell you what. Someone who ticks "Other" has expressed their desire to tell you that they do not self-identify as binary M or F, and might well have chosen to be more specific if you'd given them the option. If they specified "Other", they explicitly did prefer to say.


If you want to try and produce a drop-menu (or equivalent) of titles for people of all cultures world-wide to choose from: you're either a genius, or going to fail horribly. If you succeed in producing a good one, there will probably be plenty of volunteers to co-sign your Nobel peace prize nomination. To avoid extending the scope of this post far beyond my own knowledge I'm going to restrict myself to dealing with English-language titles. That (hopefully obviously) means that any solution suggested here is only suitable for use in an exclusively anglophone environment; it's going to be automatically inadequate as soon as any other language or cultural group needs to be considered. You may be able to apply the same logic to get something useful for non-english-exclusive groups, but you really want (non-privileged) native speakers to check out whatever you come up with, because honorifics work differently in different cultures.

Here are the two entries your menu absolutely has to have:

  • None of the above

  • Prefer not to say

Ideally, you should also offer "No title", but rolling that into "None of the above" isn't entirely unreasonable. As with gender, though, "Other" and "Prefer not to say" need to be kept separate because they're totally distinct concepts. Someone whose marriage is a vital part of their identity may care very much about being addressed as "Mrs", and if you haven't given them that option, then "Prefer not to say" is just as wrong (and thus just as insulting) as a forced choice of "Mr" or "Ms".

You then need a list of titles that includes as many people as possible but is still short enough that "none of the above" replaces a large number of unusual titles rather than looking targeted. Maybe half a dozen entries, plus "None of the above" and "Prefer not to say" (both of which are likely to get treated as "none" by your mail-merge if there's a mailing list, but that's a separate issue[3]). "Mr" is easy; it probably represents over a third of the population. Cultural issues mean we need at least two entries for women to cover the equivalent space; "Mrs" has no competiton, but does our list take "Ms", or "Miss", or both? I don't know what the usage rates are, but they both seem fairly common, and I know people who are strongly attached to each one. If we take both, we've used four of our six spaces, so we can only have two more entries. A little quick research suggests that the next most widely used title is probably "Dr" (about 1% of the population). "Mx" is a bit trickier; allegedly around 0.5% of the population identify as non-binary-gendered (although I'd expect that number to rise, the way that the proportion of people identifying as non-het has done). While it's unlikely that every non-binary person will select "Mx" from the proposed list, I know a number of definitely binary people (mostly women) who do use it for preference, to avoid giving information about their gender. So 0.5% doesn't seem an unreasonable guess for that one. I'm not aware of any other title that comes close to covering that high a proportion of the population

That's six. While "Dr" covers quite a lot of people, I think it's the one I'd be happiest to lose; it's the only professional title on the list, apart from anything else.

So I think the bare minimum that's acceptable (if you must ask for a title) is:

  • Miss

  • Mr

  • Mrs

  • Ms

  • Mx

  • None of the above

  • Prefer not to say

I'd likely be happier if you added "Dr", but I do feel it's a bit the odd one out. And again, I don't think that's a perfect solution; it's a basic minimum I think people should be held to account for not meeting. Much better to allow free text (remembering to allow the box to be empty, because some people feel very strongly about not using any title[4]), or simply not ask.

[3] If you plan to argue in the comments that it's ok to combine them in the form if you're going to handle them the same way in code, please go back and read the bits about them being psychologically different and how the goal here is to avoid giving offence, because you seem to have missed the point.

[4] I suspect I come into contact with a disproportionate number of such people - both Quakers and those opposed to titles for other reasons. But I confess I've not actually made any attempt to find out what proportion of the total population they are, and if anyone has good numbers I'd be interested to see them. (Notably, in assuming that my experience is disproportionate, I've discounted "No Title" from the list of the six most-common titles, and if that's wrong, I should correct it.)

ETA: [personal profile] pseudomonas has a useful short form letter explaining this here. The UK government guidelines can be found here and there's also a discussion about the reasoning behind them. There's also some commentary from the sociology department at Stanford University here.
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As reward for getting on with tidying the house, to make it saleable, I decided that I really wanted to rewatch Buffy, and so bought a complete box set. [personal profile] minion_of_tevildo and I have thus been watching it in our breaks, and are currently about halfway through season three. We've discussed a few crossover ideas (notably involving what various canons would make of Spike) over the last few days, but this evening's idea came suddenly and with the force of a lightning bolt:

Bodyswap: Cordelia Chase / Cordelia, Countess Vorkosigan

The most likely suspect is, naturally, Ethan Rayne, looking to cause mischief but not particularly interested in getting anyone killed. Swapping a (from his perspective) minor member of Buffy's support team for a random other person with the same name should be fun, right? I'm not quite sure that even Cordelia V. is going to be able to actually turn him into a good person, but I do think he's fairly rapidly going to wind up more alarmed by her than he is by Giles. While tracking him down, of course, she's going to give the Scooby Gang the Betan sex-ed treatment for their idiotic love-lives, permanently readjusting a number of heads (and extracting a few from colons somewhat prematurely, from the series point of view). She's not going to have much sympathy for the Council's bullsh*t, either; post-"Helpless", Giles is going to find himself with an unexpectedly potent ally, and Wesley is in for a torrent of pain when he arrives. She might even be able to rescue Faith from herself, if she arrives early enough.

On the other end, Cordelia C, dropped into the Vorkosigan family, is going to have a harder time of it. Even if she works out what's happened fast enough (which she should do; she's smart[1]), she's not going to fool any of the other Cordelia's family or friends for an instant. They're going to work out that she's an imposter equally fast, and while (post-Mark, at any rate), they'll be open to the idea that the imposter is relatively innocent, the idea that she has no idea where she is or what's going on is unlikely to be accepted. Once she gets over the initial panic, and they all get pointed in the right direction, things will be alright (for her; Ethan is in a world of trouble at this point[2]), but before that, Cordy will have a very bad time. [ETA: for bonus points, there needs to be some unavoidable social situation in which CC has to pretend to be CV, under the supervision of Lady Alys. Because seeing CC come up against that immovable object on the subjects of fashion and etiquette...] There could also be some serious political strain. Depending on the timing, Cetaganda or one of the Jacksonian houses could plausibly be blamed for the switch, with everyone on Barrayar simultaneously trying to point fingers and keep it quiet that anything's happened. Then, of course, they don't believe in magic (or, presumably, have any local expertise), so they're probably just going to have to wait for their Cordelia to get everything in line back in Buffyland and get the spell reversed.

[1] She's going to get some very interesting life-lessons about (a) being overly self-interested and (b) pretending to be stupid.
[2] Seriously, Aral's response to someone kidnapping his wife as a joke? Miles and Gregor will merely be homicidal; Aral will be much, much scarier.
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I keep meaning to post assorted things, and not getting round to it. Meanwhile, just quickly:

I need to switch to an automatic, so our current car needs to be sold. 2002 Skoda Fabia with 1.9TDi engine, aircon and ABS; also foglights and towing hook. Anyone in the Oxford-ish area looking to buy a smallish cheap to run car? (Routinely does 55-60mpg on dual carriageways; 45ish in towns.) I've now agreed to part-exchange this for a replacement.
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Academic/semi-academic discussion on rights of children/disabled people in modern international law came up in passing on Twitter the other day. Since [personal profile] minion_of_tevildo actually knows something about the subject (Thesis here), I asked her for some pointers. On the offchance that they're of use and/or interest to others, here they are:

The Abo Akademi textbook on human rights has chapters on both rights of the child and Disability and Human Rights. Intended as an introductory textbook on human rights for masters students.

Some of the training materials on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities could be of interest (and are freely accessible online):

The International Disability Alliance has a list of links to statements and position papers and their website also has links to other organisations working on these issues. Note that: (a) most of this has a practical rather than academic focus and (b) the position of the IDA (and even more some of its members) on the interpretation of the CRPD is sometimes more what they would like to believe it meant that what the rest of the world thinks it says and means.

The Mental Disability Advocacy Centre is another NGO with some useful stuff on their website. Again their publications are activist rather than academic in approach, but they tend to be good and clear on legal standards and problems (this is one of the organisations that has been responsible for taking cases on mental disability issues to the European Court on Human Rights, so again on the case law they are a very good resource.) http://www.mdac.org/en/resources

Documentation on the Convention on the rights of the child is much more narrowly focused on how to report or reiterating rights rather than discussing the current interpretation. The one thing, that I would point to as a possibly the UNICEF collection of essays for the 25th anniversary of the CRC. From a quick look, I suspect this is a very uncritically pro-UN and pro-UNICEF document, but could still be an interesting starting point and suggest some further directions.

Finally, the General Comments of either of the two Committee's (CRC or CRPD) could be of interest as they give the 'official' expert opinion of how certain standards in international law should be interpreted. The quality of the different comments is a bit variable (particularly for the CRC because they allow others to draft them and just approve the texts as a Committee), but again, if they are not sources the reader has come across could be interesting as a starting point.
CRPD General Comments are at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/GC.aspx
CRC ones at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/TBSearch.aspx?Lang=en&TreatyID=5&DocTypeID=11
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OK, maybe not everything, but a great deal of what's wrong with the world is contained within one fifteen-year-old's (genuinely) innocent[1] question:

"How can she have been raped? She wasn't awake to say no."

Thankfully, there was a good teacher on hand to explain (and write it up later). But still....

[1] in the sense "without knowledge or guile". The child had never previously been taught better.
tigerfort: (Default)
OK, maybe not everything, but a great deal of what's wrong with the world is contained within one fifteen-year-old's (genuinely) innocent[1] question:

"How can she have been raped? She wasn't awake to say no."

Thankfully, there was a good teacher on hand to explain (and write it up later). But still....

[1] in the sense "without knowledge or guile". The child had never previously been taught better.
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On the offchance anyone doesn't already know, Diana Wynne Jones died at the weekend, after a long battle with cancer. A national treasure, as Neil Gaiman rightly said*, who will be missed by many. (Obit. by Chris Priest; also one by Neil Gaiman, as pointed out by [personal profile] na_lon, and another, by Emma Bull.)

* I've speculated elsewhere that Mr G's own rise to fame can be tracked quite neatly by the changing attribution of that comment - originally just "Locus magazine", then "Neil Gaiman in Locus", and finally "Neil Gaiman" without mentioning the magazine.
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This started off as a collection of links to go into a comment on [personal profile] naraht's journal, but it got a bit out of hand, and took rather longer than I intended, and....

Behind the cut, you'll find a very slightly ranty description of some of the evidence that using DRM not only increases costs, but actually cuts sales too. That is, if you have two identical (electronic) products for sale at the same price, one with DRM and one without, not only is the margin (and thus profit-per-sale) on the DRM-free version better, it will sell more copies as well. Big media companies tend to insist that everything needs to have DRM because all their customers (you and me, in other words) are thieves by nature: the evidence is that not only is that attitude highly offensive, it's directly costing them money as well. Where does the evidence come from? Well, mostly from sales figures provided by big (and some smaller) media companies, actually.

Read more... )
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I'm aware that the man in question is now largely serving a different constituency[1], but I'm still more than a little surprised to hear a major political figure admit that their policy was wrong in any way. Especially given that the specific example at hand involves first-world food subsidies; it's practically impossible to get a politician to admit that these lead to problems (in their own country - obviously everyone else is bad for doing it).

But, according to Oxfam and the BBC:

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked," said Mr Clinton, a frequent visitor to Haiti.

"I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did."

[1] of course, he still has a wife and friends who are involved in US-national politics, and I can't help suspecting that unpleasant hay will be made of this by their opponents
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The appalling "Digital Economy Bill" I've expressed my concerns about previously is now moving rapidly through the Commons. The current joint proposal from the Labour and Conservative front benches[1] is to shove the bill through next Tuesday basically without any discussion in Parliament, in order to get it passed. I was going to say "get it passed before the election", but frankly, the concern of the parties appears rather close to that of the BPI, who want the bill passed without discussion (an internal BPI memo "cites an expert on legislation as saying that the bill will likely die if MPs insist on their right and responsibility to examine this legislation in detail before voting on it".

That is, the powers behind the bill don't think that MPs would pass it if they looked at it, so the two main parties have agreed to deny MPs the chance to look at it. What can you do about this? Well, before it can go into the "wash-up" (which ex-MP Martin Bell reckons is better described as a stitch-up), it has to pass a vote in the Commons.

38 Degrees is raising money for adverts opposing the bill to be published/broadcast on the morning of the vote; if you feel able, donate.

More important, though, you can write to your MP. Explain that the bill is bad law (there are plenty of detailed links in my previous posts on the subject), and that if it is to be passed at all it must be subject to proper Parliamentary process, not pushed through on the nod. There's also an Early Day Motion opposing the bill and asking for it to undergo proper scrutiny after the election, proposed by two Labour back-benchers, which you can ask your MP to support.

Last but very much not least, please pass the message on and ask other people to do the same things. This bill gives big media companies the power to cut people off from the net on a whim, without evidence; it puts huge burdens on small publishers of all kinds; it creates a power for a member of the government (or anyone they choose to appoint) to introduce basically unlimited secondary legislation; it has no upside (except for existing big media groups).

[1] the Lib Dem front bench had originally agreed to go along with this, but have now changed their minds following pressure from members and back-bench MPs.
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Incidentally, for those who think that there's no need to worry because this year's Queen's speech is "all posturing for the election", you do know that this bill is being fast-tracked and has already had its second reading in the Lords, yes?

Further to my last two posts, more information on the appalling "digital economy bill" keeps coming to light. There's a nice post at booktrade.info describing how the bill "inadvertantly" imposes potentially huge new costs on small publishers of pretty much anything (books, games, photographs... anything with copyright potential). (Specifically, it creates new registration and licensing requirements for any 'organisation' which licences any copyright material created by more than one different individual, or acts as agent for any such owners. So of course, that applies to authors' agents as well as small creative companies.) The Open Rights Group has a post up from a specialist lawyer, giving chapter and verse on what's wrong with the bill. It's long, and fairly detailed, and well worth reading. One simple point of particular note, though, is that the so-called 'three-strikes rule' is nothing of the kind - not only is there no requirement for such disconnections to relate to a number of "strikes" there is no need for disconnection to be linked to infringement of copyright. Nor is there any requirement for evidence of any wrongdoing, or any allowance for an appeal. (Although I believe the EU is hastily passing some legislation to insist on something resembling a fair judicial process; somehow this seems likely to be the one piece of EU law that the UK gov't doesn't insist on applying over strenuously. Sigh.)

Tell everyone you know, and complain to your MP, please. The bill is very nasty indeed (for everyone except big media, natch), and needs to be stopped.
tigerfort: (Default)
There's now a Number 10 petition against a small part of the proposed law; please go and sign it. Petitions don't mean much, and there are a lot of other things wrong with the proposed bill, but every little helps.


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