Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Entertainment

Aaron Swartz and Copyright Law

Recently, Aaron Swartz, a talented programmer involved in the creation RSS feeds and Reddit, committed suicide. Apparently this was in response to his being hounded by a federal prosecutor for the crime of violating copyright protections and sharing a large cache of academic articles access to which was controlled by JSTOR, an online academic library club of sorts. In the aftermath of the Swartz suicide, activists are demanding a significant curtailment of copyright law. Is this a reasonable policy? That’s my question for today.

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The TV Licence Gestapo

It’s that time again–no, not for the wheel of morality, but for the British government’s annual welcoming of students back to university. Is it a reduction in tuition fees? A care package full of sweets? An expression of thanks to the international students for helping to keep tuition costs down for everyone else? None of these things. It’s a friendly letter from the TV Licencing Authority. Two friendly letters, in fact, which I received this year on the very same day. One is from September, which happens to be before term started, and it informs me of the British practise of TV licencing–the requirement that all people in the UK who watch live television purchase a TV licence, the proceeds of which goes to fund the BBC. The other, apparently from this month, tells me that last month I received a letter and took no action, and that consequently I am now under “investigation”, an investigation which “could lead to a summons, a court hearing, or a fine of up to 1,000 pounds plus legal costs”.  I am unfazed by this–at the start of each academic year, the TV Licencing Authority threatens me (and everyone else at the university who hasn’t bought a TV license) with an investigation. Every year I inform them that I do not require a licence (I do not own a TV in Britain and watch no live television on my laptop), every year they tell me they may stop by to ensure that I’m not lying, and every year they don’t actually bother to do that. This is not a very pleasant way of interacting with HM Government, to be accused of trying to steal British television right off the plane. In my home country, the United States, we don’t bother with TV licences at all, and so I always find myself reacting to these letters with the thought that well, this is a sort of stupid way to fund the BBC–surely there is a superior alternative? I propose that there is indeed a much more sensible way to do it that does not involve falsely accusing piles and piles of people of fraud, and that proposal follows.

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