Further to the misguided, disastrous amendments to the Digital Economy Bill brought in earlier in the week, Thursday saw the situation – somehow – get even worse, with the attempt to outlaw ‘web lockers’ such as YounSendIt and Dropbox. Cory Doctorow explains it here.
Web lockers enable people to upload files, often very large ones, and then let other people download them. More often than not this is a private service, faciliating the transfer of large files for people that don’t have the ability to host such files themselves, and solving the problem of tight filesize limits on email attachments.
Can these web locker services be used to aid piracy? Of course they can – you could quite easily upload some music, or movies, or computer games. But, then, the humble motor vehicle can be used as a getaway car after a bank robbery. Does that mean we should ban cars? Of course not. You go after the bank robbers, not the car manufacturer.
Anyway, what I want to quickly outline are a couple of the ways I’ve used web lockers myself. Outlawing such things would cripple both my professional and non-professional work.
- I work for a British software developer called FXhome. We produce visual effects software for amateur and indie filmmakers. FXhome.com has a community of such filmmakers, all interacting and helping each other learn and improve. Frequently large files need to be shared, whether they be raw shot destined for VFX work, or sound or music files, or 3D animation data, or test or final edits of their own movies. Very few people have webspace these days, which means they rely upon services such as YouSendIt to transfer the files around (it’s worth mentioning that they subsequently use YouTube to get their movies seen by a global audience – another website that thet UK government would be able to ban under its new legislation). It’s a similarly vital service for FXhome’s support system, with users often sending us large files this way so that we can analyse them and provide them with assistance.
- Personally I primarily use a service called Dropbox. It’s a really wonderful system that enables you to sync folders on your computer with the Dropbox servers and any other computers. I have all my writing (novels, short stories, articles etc) in a Dropbox folder. This means that as soon as I click ‘save’ in Word, the file is sent to Dropbox, where it is backed up and stored securely. If I go downstairs and turn on my girlfriend’s laptop, the same Word file automatically syncs and I can continue working on it from there. If in my lunch hour at work I decide to do 15 minutes of work on my latest novel, I can instantly access the file the same way, and as soon as I click ‘save’ it will have synced back to my home desktop machine.
- My boss uses Dropbox in a similar fashion, using it to sync huge Photoshop image files between work and home so that he can easily continue his designs without having to carry out hard drives and USB sticks.
- My father is shortly to start using Dropbox as well, to ensure that his new novel is backed up and safe.
Web lockers are an integral part of the UK’s creative industries, both on a personal and on a business level. Politicians that don’t understand the core concepts involved in a debate about the Internet should stay far away from it, regardless of what their friends in the media industries tell them to say and do.
The Digital Economy Bill will wreck the UK’s creative industry, not save it.
Edit: As expected with such an dictatorial, civil rights-infringing bill, it’s being rush through to try and evade notice by the bulk of the population: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/mar/05/digital-economy-bill-pushed-through