Threats to our Industry - Where They Are Taking Us (part 1/2)

by Niall Douglas in association with NamesFacesPlaces

This is the seventh in a series of articles about threats to our industry - not just to the IT contracting industry, but to any part of IT which is indigenous to Europe and most specifically the United Kingdom, which is in my opinion the most vulnerable of the IT industries within the EU.

We've already explored in depth the consequences of the draft UK implementation of the European Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC) if the draft were to pass into law as-is. We've explored very cursorily the consequences of the software patent battle which will soon be waged upon us and this, the last of the series, aims to draw some conclusions about what all this means in the bigger picture.

A quick round-up

As a result of the European Copyright Directive, many hitherto legal activities such as videoing a football match, reverse engineering and publicising someone else's incompetence with encryption will shortly be made illegal, enforced by criminal sanctions by the local government.

Should Software Patents become legal here, simply using a JPEG or even XORing two bits together will require a royalty payment to someone else plus the ever-present possibility of being sued for breaching a patent you didn't know about. And with 100,000's of worldwide patents, that's hard to prevent without an expensive legal team.

In both of these, the public loses and large companies gain. More important, most of those companies which gain are US multinationals. There will be an inexorable flow of royalty and licence payments from Europe to the US.

The time is coming when every time you read a page from a book, see more than a few seconds of video or use a computer program, you will have to pay a fee.

In other words, we are giving away our ability to buy a product and instead accepting merely the ability to rent or licence a product.

For the European IT industry, unable to build upon existing technology, unable to reverse engineer, unable to do squat without the nod from the US parent, paying massive percentages of our earnings in royalties and licences, we will be reduced to a labour camp competing directly against third world cheap labour.

But surely, some of you may argue, it is only right the inventor receives money for their invention?

A silent US conspiracy against us? Surely not!

After reading this series, you may think I am painting a picture of a US conspiracy to reduce all of us to the breadline - or you may think of me as somehow a US-hater or a UK nationalist chiming Rule Britannia! propagating my views of hate through a guise of threats against our IT industry. Well, it's hard to adequately refute this interpretation without straying so far off-topic, but at the very minimum I'd like to introduce you to a theory called collective consciousness which is at the forefront of current research.

Basically, this theory proposes that not only is each individual animal conscious, but also a group or network of animals is collectively conscious in a way no individual can be. Think of it like an amoeba is conscious to a point, but put many single-celled animals together and you get something very different to its constituents. If you want to know lots more about this theory, please read the excellent book "The Web Of Life" by Fritjof Capra.

Now with application of this theory, one can deduce that the US multinationals will all work together cooperatively against what they commonly consider their competitors. They will do this because their common cultural and social imprinting will cause them to tend to do this and when you get a lot of people thinking similar things, it will tend to happen. Look at communism or fascism or even the hippy movement - all of these and many more required the tacit support of mass populations to come into being.

So, based on this, you can argue there is a conspiracy against us because we are what they consider their primary competitors and their culture (like ours) says competitors must be beaten. It isn't deliberate, organised or evil - it simply is. Wherever free market capitalism is the prevailing ideologue, you must compete to survive and my view is that we are failing to compete and hence are being destroyed.

It's a battle!

Capitalistic competition for survival is effectively a battle and hence military terminology is very appropriate. What is happening is that the US multinationals are using a multi-pronged approach to attack us. Here's a list:

  1. via the production of superior products
    Technically of course, most new features in Microsoft products have actually been borrowed from elsewhere - for example, Acorn RISC-OS had a task bar and Explorer in 1989 and BeOS had a database-like filing system which the next generation of Windows will have (in 2005). Apple are perhaps the worst for borrowing features - the original windowing desktop was borrowed from Xerox Parc labs in the late 70s and MacOS X actually is FreeBSD. This borrowing of ideas to further technology has great relevance to point (iii) below.
  2. via propaganda
    An excellent public relations campaign was what won the public definitively to Windows 95 - by considerably under-representing the minimum required specification, they not only had everyone buy copies but also upgrade or buy new computers much sooner - thus sparking a boom for the hardware industry. Another key tool used since days of old by IBM is FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) whereby by propagating an irrational fear of change they prevent competitive products from being tried.
  3. via legal measures (ie; making your competitor or its products illegal)
    This is the new one being used and indeed it's an increasing trend on the part of all companies since the 1970's when certain regulations were changed. These legal measures are broadly split into the two parts this series has covered: digital copyrights management and software patents. As I have explained in this series of articles, moves are under way to place us under the yoke of these two.

The first in my opinion represents all that is good about capitalism - the push to evolve, to innovate, to change and improve. The second generally is anti-competitive, anti-change and anti-evolution but it's hard to blame people for being cautious - people like to stick with what they know and feel safe with and the ability to do this should be protected even at the expense of improvement.

The evil of using legal measures

The third however represents all that is evil with capitalism. It ties up resources much better spent on progress with needless infighting over who owns what idea. What I find especially comical is that the major proponents of these legal measures all became multinationals in the first place precisely because they took (or "stole" as it will become) ideas off others and used them to successfully build a better product.


NOTE TO SELF: Need also to factor in several mentions of industry needing to start UK's own new OS paradigm ie; mine.

And here's some links on how to do that: - use this to fax your MP. Currently 70% of Conservatives, 58% of Labour and 52% of Liberal Democrat MP's reply within two weeks.



Niall Douglas
10th October 2002