AGCOM, the Italian Communications Authority, should issue tomorrow a new set of rules to enforce online copyright protection that has, so to speak, some minor problems. Here is a synthesis of mine from some excellent articles (in Italian, see links below) by Guido Scorza, a lawyer who closely follows these issues:

  • AGCOM (that is not a Court!) will self appoint itself as a sheriff entitled, by a code written only by AGCOM and media industry lobbies, to shut down or make unreachable from Italy, without real investigation or appeal, any website that they consider guilty of copyright violation.
  • Even if the idea were right (Marco: and technically possible, but why should Italian lawmakers and politicians ever take something as meaningless as reality into account?) AGCOM has no legal standing whatsoever to implement it, period.

Scorza’s articles explain with plenty of details these points. Here I only want to elaborate on a couple of not-so-secondary issues that others already wrote about, partly because it seems to me that they didn’t get enough attention in Italy, and partly because… it looks like the very same thing is happening in France right now, so the more certain things are clear the better.

The first (maybe only Italian) problem is the lack of reaction to this attack among italian Internet users. As Stefano Epifani put it:

who's defending online freedom in Italy? Not italians who, just while that freedom is under attack are much more interested, according to Twitter and Google trends, to Hanna Montana, "Ciao Darwin" and Tamarreide (the last two are italian trash TV shows)

The other and bigger issue I’d like to highlight because it is much more general, even if I am surely not the first person to describe it explicitly, is a widespread misunderstanding. I feel that there aren’t enough people who already understand who and why rules likes these are designed to attack. To explain what I mean, here are a couple of quotes from italian fora and mailing lists discussing the AGCOM rules:

  1. [these new rules would be] just another pointless, hopeless, suicide attempt by the content industry to try to ignore their unability to adapt to a changing world
  2. as usual, they’ll only shut down a few small personal websites, while those who defend the interests of music and video lobbies, not to mention powerful NGOs of any colour with powerful protectors, will be unaffected

I disagree. The real goal of rules like these, or at least their most dangerous effect, has nothing to do with protecting the gains of the media industry and it surely won’t be “small personal websites” (assuming such a definition still makes sense today) to lose.

Sure, the content industry loves to denounce as loudly as possible the losses they’d suffer because of online piracy. But I like to think that one of the reasons, surely not the first, why Berlusconi’s Mediaset lost 28% of its value since April is that many stock holders and analysts aren’t stupid and are starting to realize that if stopping piracy is impossible from a purely technical point of view… maybe it’s time to sell certain stocks and invest their money somewhere else. So what’s AGCOM’s real goal here?

If you ask me, both AGCOM managers and many media industry executives worldwide do realize very well that demands to do business as before the Internet make as much sense as a Fukushima survivor (with all respect for them!) demanding to resume business as usual at his old office two blocks from the nuclear plants: it may even be right in principle, but it’s physically impossible.

However, AGCOM and friends don’t really care because their real goal is not defending copyright and TV royalties: it is only to have enough legal tools to quickly shutdown whoever creates political problems. What if some average Joe publishes online a TV interview to some politician, with a comment attached that proves his or her incompetence or unreliability? How do you cope with that, in a country where there’s a Constitution that (so far….) still guarantees freedom of speech?

This is the real issue, and the AGCOM answer is: give a special agency tools that officially don’t protect politicians, only the media industry and its workers, that is normal people, so they can legally take offline with the video interview (i.e. avoid a real or assumed economic damage for the TV station) the real problem, that is the comment that politically damages whoever was interviewed.

That’s what the real problem is. No rocket science, really, but since I fear not enough people get it yet, I thought it could be useful to (re) explain it. Also because the example I just made isn’t an hypothetical one, but more or less what actually happened (without AGCOM…) to the Italian Consumer Association just a few weeks ago.

Articles by Guido Scorza: