Mark's Musings

A miscellany of thoughts and opinions from an unimportant small town politician and bit-part web developer

Conference reflections, day 3


Notes from day three come, unusually, before the end of day three as there weren’t any mid or late evening fringe events I felt like going to. In fact, I’ve spent quite a lot of the day not going to things, starting with the main auditorium speeches by Boris Johnson (missed because I got up late) and Teresa May (missed because, well, I couldn’t be bothered). I did catch most of Boris on the monitors in the catering area where I was attempting to forced my brain into life with coffee, and caught a fair amount of Teresa on the BBC booth monitors (although I missed the cat reference), and have to say that Boris came across much better – as a rabble rouser he has few peers. But the first event I actually made it to in person was the lunchtime fringe meeting sponsored by UK Music (same organisation as yesterday’s pop quiz) and chaired by Feargal Sharkey (also as with the pop quiz).

I tweeted, somewhat (or, more accurately, very) ironically yesterday that all the free food and booze from UK Music had caused me to change my mind about their approach to copyright enforcement (which, frankly, sucks). But this meeting wasn’t about copyright, and here I found a lot more common ground. Encouraging grassroots music by abolishing the previous government’s stifling red tape regarding licensing, for example, is something that any music lover, on either side of the intellectual property divide, can only welcome. UK Music’s report into the contribution to the economy made by Britain’s live music scene was surprisingly fascinating reading. And a brief conversation with Feargal after the end of the event revealed a more pragmatic approach to unauthorised filesharing, at least from his personal perspective, than maybe I’d expected. I still think there’s a big gulf there between UK Music as a whole and the copyright reform movement, but I don’t think UK Music necessarily speaks with a single voice either and I think there are areas where positive engagement is possible. I’ll follow that up later with a more detailed blog post.

I came away from an early evening event on the subject of protecting children from Internet porn feeling much less sanguine. Featuring contributions from Claire Perry MP (notorious for her beliefs that it’s as easy to regulate the Internet as it is to regulate mobile phones) and the Minister for Children and Families, Tim Loughton (who may know a lot about children but clearly knows very little about the Internet), this left me wanting to beat my head against the wall. Claire Perry arrived late, said her piece and then left before taking any questions, meaning she wasn’t there when I pointed out a couple (I didn’t have time for more) of major flaws (in short: it won’t work as well as PC-level blocking and it’s highly susceptible to mission creep) in her argument during the Q&A session, but it’s clear that she has the ear of the minister. Of the panel, only Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts showed an appreciation of the wider issues – she made the point that everything I said had been brought up many times by Mumsnet users and that there was certainly no consensus among her members that ISP-level porn blocking is workable. Despite that, it seems clear that that’s what we’re going to get – having originally said that it’s not possible, the ISPs have seemingly done a U-turn and come up with proposals for opt-in blocking. Claire Perry saw this as vindication of her belief that she knows better than the techies. In reality, it looks to me as if the ISPs have simply concocted some snake oil that they hope will make her believe they’re doing something useful. It was left to a final contribution from the floor by a representative from Microsoft who made the point that PC-level – that is, user-controlled rather than ISP-controlled – filtering (which Claire Perry had dismissed as “too complicated”) is one of the things that they’re putting a lot of work into precisely because they don’t think that it’s the role of the ISPs to decide what their customers can see. I got the impression that there were only three people in the room (me, Man from Microsoft and Justine Roberts) who actually grok the Internet, and, surprise surprise, we have a different viewpoint to all the others.

Anyway, tomorrow is the last day. Although it finishes in the afternoon, after the PM’s keynote speech, I may not be able to write up the notes until I get home as, by then, I won’t have a hotel room to go back to – I check out in the morning before heading over to the conference.