How The Pirate Bay ban was hijacked by the anti-smut brigade
Something for the Weekend, Sir? I note with dismay that the recent High Court ruling to force some ISPs to ban access to The Pirate Bay has been hijacked by lobbyists who are confused about what the interweb does. A classic example was heard on Radio 4's Today on Tuesday, which devoted eight minutes to John Humphrys inexpertly tying himself into a mesh of cross-purposes while his guests patiently try to untangle him.
When it comes to making confused arguments, I'm among the worst offenders. It's like bad baking: you take 500 grammes of evidence, five tonnes of confidence and a knob of butter (snigger), bring them to a nice bubbling assertion and then throw in a shoe.
For me, it's an acquired skill. For other people, it's obviously down to plain ignorance.
Humphrys demonstrated one way of confusing an argument: by ranting about a topic that's fixed in your head even though the discussion is actually about something else. Scott Adams gives a fine example of what I mean.
Humphrys was so fixated on getting across his belief that ISPs are refusing to block illegal websites that he failed to hear the response that ISPs are only refusing to block legal websites. The ISPs' argument is that police and judges are more appropriate bodies than bandwidth salesmen for determining whether a website breaks UK laws.
It's a bit like expecting tarmac-layers to prevent people from speeding on motorways.
Surely a better comeback from Humphreys would be to ask why these same ISPs, for all their claims of independence and integrity, allow their hosting businesses to enthusiastically switch off perfectly honest websites at the slightest whiff of a legal threat, no matter how tentative or bogus. At least, that would be my way of confusing the argument.
Instead, I can see a much worse kind of confusion arising from The Pirate Bay ruling: that it is somehow connected with pornography. This is the result of people with their own agendas using a pretty boring legal story about international copyright infringement as an excuse to go all holy on us.
Immediately, the story is getting mixed up with the government's introduction of the Online Safety Bill, which purports to force ISPs to stop the internet from showing naughty pictures to children. The confusion is compounded by the Bill's key supporter, Claire Perry MP, churning out quotes for every TV channel, radio programme, newswire, newspaper and magazine that mistakenly asks her for her opinion about communication technology.
She was even on that bloody Today item - about The Pirate Bay, remember - offering her views about nudey-dudies jiggling their tackle in front of children. Just to make the listeners even more confused, she started by commenting how The Pirate Bay logo looks similar to the Blue Peter ship.
And so, in three just seconds, by insinuating that The Pirate Bay is in fact a den of infant-groomers, Perry switched the story from copyright infringement to paedophilia.
Why does this keep happening? Some readers may remember an urban myth that arose at the turn of the Millennium. It was said that a thuggish mob attacked a paediatrician's surgery because the plaque outside the door said paedo-something.