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A Black Day For New Zealand

I have become a fan of Twitter, the social media site that allows you to build a network of friends, called (without irony) 'followers'.

New Zealand Twitterers are using the site to show resistance to the passage of ammendments to the copyright laws, in particular Section 92a which could see draconic responses to claims of copyright infringement, such as file sharing (especially music and film - the music industry, in particular, has been vocally lobbying the changes).

Blackout was conceived by Juha Saarinen leading to a full Internet blackout day on February 23rd to protest the possibility that the law will be rubber stamped without proper regard for the principles of law that it ignores. Twitterers are blacking out their faces and backgrounds of their pages as a protest. British actor Stephen Fry, who has become something of star in the Twittersphere (second only to Barack Obama by number of followers), has taken up the cause and blacked out his face and spoken in media about his support.

Critics of the law change, and I am one of them, say that having access to the internet cut by an ISP is a user is accused of copyright violation, without any standard of proof and no legal process is a violation of civil rights.

The music industry argues that it has the interests of the artists at heart, that illegal digital sharing of music is devastating the music industry. That said, last year was a bumper year for New Zealand music and the local scene seems more vibrant and diverse that it has been in some time.

What is true is that dynamics of the music business have changed dramatically - in spite of the music industry - whose practices and behaviour have never been exactly what one might call 'squeaky clean' and whose exploitation of artistes is the stuff of legend (If you can find a copy of The Hit Men, grab it).

Section 29a is not going to save the traditional music business, nor is any Metallica v Napster type of hostility towards fans and consumers.

While the Blackout is an interesting idea, and one which I hope helps make the current government think twice before permitting their predecessor's ill-conceived legislation to become law, I wonder if it may be too little too late.

The annoying thing on Twitter is that replacing a picture of yourself with a black square makes the tool virtually useless (I use an Adobe Air application called tweetdeck to manage the communication porcess) because without face recognition I don't know who I am talking to, or who is talking to me. So it becomes something of an excercise in cutting off your face to spite your face.

It's not to late to make a difference. The opportunity is to use the web to express your citizenship and participate in sensible government.But leaving it to a passive aggressive act, such as blacking out your profile picture isn't enough - it won't have salience (too easy for law makers to dismiss it as the flaky fringe - which Twitter is considered by some to be).

Get on the phone to your MP, blog about it, write to the Newspaper, find a way of hitting those with vested interests where it hurts (Don't buy music for a month ).

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)