Filesharers have deployed the ultimate weapon on the Antipodean front in their global copyright battle with the music and film industries: Twitter*.
New Zealand is on the verge of enacting laws to curb illegal filesharing. ISPs will be compelled to introduce policies that could lead to disconnection from the internet for repeat copyright infringers. Those detected sharing copyright material illegally will get three warnings before disconnection.
The laws, which come into force at the end of this month have prompted outcry from some Kiwi internet users. They have railed against "Section 92a", branding its provisions a charter for spying, weak evidence and disproportionality.
Similar criticisms are sure to greet Lord Carter's final proposals to address copyright infringement via peer-to-peer networks in the UK, due to be published later this year.
In response to its government's action, Creative Freedom, a Kiwi organisation similar in its copyright politics to the UK's own Open Rights Group, has labelled this week "The New Zealand Internet Blackout". Users of Twitter and other social networking services are encouraged to replace their profile picture with a black square.
Much-loved British comedian and pro bono Twitter PR man Stephen Fry has joined the protest.
Such a feeble protest via Twitter, whose advocates tout the fact that it is easily ignored as a strength, would normally be somewhat self-defeating. Thanks to news media's Twitterphilia, however (see below), the blackout is getting the kind of international attention that a protest marking a procedural stage in the passage of domestic laws would otherwise not have attracted, or merited.
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Twitter is a web-based communications service mostly, but not exclusively, used by people who spend a lot of time on the internet to discuss the internet, to discuss discussion of the internet, and to gossip about celebrities. When not on the internet, Twitter users often evangelise Twitter to other people.
Despite this typical new media hype pattern, a call of "What's the Twitter angle?" has seemingly become the refrain of incurious news editors worldwide. [What's a Twitter? - Bela Lugosi, Reg News Ed] Any mundane story of marginal interest is thus covered with Twitter sprinkles, transforming it into a tasty zeitgeist-fable for the ages. The above is a prime example of how wily campaigners can turn this appetite to their advantage, creating "news" where there is none.
The rise of Twitter has also spawned its own tediously familiar class of meta-news ("Humans use communications service to discuss major event shocka", etc, etc, ad nauseum).
Meanwhile the service itself offers varying degrees of utility and entertainment to its fans, remains incomprehensible to others and irrelevant to the majority. Just like everything else on the web.