One rule for one…

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According to reports from MoneyMarketing and the Telegraph the UK government plan to make troubled bank Northern Rock exempt from the Freedom of Information Act once they’ve steam-rollered its “temporary” nationalisation through parliament. Apparently the legislation states that “Article 18 deems Northern Rock not to be a publicly-owned company for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”

Broon defended the decision at PMQs today, saying that “The only reason that the Freedom of Information Act comes into this is that it would be unfair on Northern Rock if other companies knew everything about its business plan”. [Read a full transcript of the exchange here] However, FOI advocate Maurice Frankel, quoted in the Torygraph article above, reckons there are plenty of other mechanisms in place to stop the breach of commercial confidentiality, without resorting to such measures.

So, what’s the beef? With tax payers set to be saddled with somewhere in the region of £110 bn of liabilities they didn’t ask for, is there yet more bad news on the horizon? This apparent effort to restrict the flow of information from the stricken company would suggest we might not yet know everything.

However, beyond the minutiae of this particular case, isn’t it reassuring to know that important legislation that makes public bodies more accountable can be bypassed with a quick flick of the legislator’s pen?! Selective application of the law doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence in the system.


EMI scraps DRM for some music downloads

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Finally, someone in the music industry has come to their senses and decided to start offering music (and viseo) tracks for download without incorporating the dreaded digital rights management (DRM) software which prevents the consumer from altering the file formats of the tracks to suit their choice of music player.  From what I know of the topic, many of the larger music firms have stuck by the use of DRM in a (seemingly vain) attempt to rein in digital piracy and bolster their flagging profit margins.  EMI have thus taken a bold step by offering up DRM-free music for sale.

Commercially, the biggest winner is probably Apple, who will now be able to open up its intuitive and popular itunes software to a new batch of users – those who swear by non-Mac audio players but long for the benefits of a decent store to buy from.  However, the user stands to benefit most – especially if other companies can be persuaded to follow suit.  However, I doubt it will be easy to get the likes of Sony and Warner to jump on the DRM-free band-waggon any time soon.  As this Reuters report suggests, the other large companies will be watching and waiting to see how EMI fairs in terms of financial gain or loss, and the effects that the action has on piracy of their tracks in the months after May, when Apple say that the EMI catalogue will be available via itunes “sans DRM”.

Naturally, EMI aren’t doing this for their health, or for the benefit of others.  Decisions by big business usually revolve around big bucks, and this is no doubt an attempt to boost sales.  Some would argue that it’s a desperate act to stop the hemorrhaging of business to other (not necessarily legal) sources of music downloads.  The benefits to users will come at a price – an increase in the cost of downloads to $1.29 (£0.99) per track (though the BBC suggests that there will also be a cheaper DRM-incorporating option).  However, friends that I have spoken to say they would gladly pay extra for the increased flexibility that the DRM-free tracks would offer.

This is certainly a brave move on the part of EMI, and one that will be welcomed by many people – myself included.  As with all brave business ventures, this could go either way.  If it blows up in their face, their competitors will no doubt be yelling “told you so you half-wits” from the sidelines and mopping up what remains from the fallout.  However, should it be a success EMI will be significantly ahead of the pack and will have earned some serious brownie-points with music fans.  Whatever happens, this move had to come eventually and like them or loathe them, EMI deserve credit for at least taking that bold step… we salute you!!  A message to the rest of the suits in the music industry – listen to your customers, get your fingers out and scrap your restrictive practice.