The Digital Economy Bill: Thinking about Banana Ice Cream

My thanks to Victoria Bernal for Larry’s Ice Cream,, itself a riff on Picasso’s Guernica.

Imagine there was a little tinpot dictatorship somewhere. Let’s call it a Banana Ice-Cream Republic. You know the kind I mean. Colourful stamps, country and capital going through ritual name-change on a regular basis, no rule of law, no civil liberties, a bunch of officials wandering around with grand titles and grander uniforms, with “President-For-Life” just the table stakes, and Grand Panjandrums 2-a-penny (not to mention Chief Scientists!).

Imagine you lived there.

Imagine you lived in a town where a lot of people ate banana ice-cream. Imagine that this ice-cream was available a number of ways: you could go to the shop and buy the ice-cream; you could go to a restaurant and order some; you could send off for ice-cream via phone or mail or suchlike; you could even make some yourself, or, if you’re very lucky, have others make the ice cream for you.

Imagine some people stood in front of the shops and restaurants asking you to try their wares, and they gave the ice cream away for free. So that you would be tempted to come in and spend a lot more money on a lot more things.

Imagine you could also buy ice cream from vans that passed by your house. [Have you ever bought ice cream from a passing van? I have. Many times. And I hope to do so again, many times.]

Now imagine that some people held up the vans and stole the ice cream and gave it away for free to everyone. This would be wrong, wouldn’t it? Of course. No one would argue that stealing is right. Even in a country without rule of law, this is usually understood.

So let’s imagine a little more. Imagine that some of the ice cream distributors got upset about all this stealing, and started trying to convince the local council that Something Has to Be Done About It. [An important point to remember; the distributors were the ones getting upset, because they were the ones making the money, not the guys who created the delicacies]. Imagine that some of the ice cream distributor big cheeses got together with some of the local council big cheeses, and they went for a boat ride on the town lake. And imagine that when they all came back, the councillor announced, completely coincidentally, that he was going to introduce a law to Stop This Stealing.

Imagine he came up with such a law. Imagine a law that went like this:

1. All people living in houses in any area where ice cream stealing was even suspected would be banned from using the roads. Any roads. No proof was needed.

2. All people living in houses in any area capable of storing stolen ice cream would also be banned from using the roads. Any roads. No proof needed. The house itself would be cordoned off.

3. If people were suspected of having bought the ice cream and then having used it to make an ice cream based dessert, this would also qualify for a ban on road use. No proof needed.

4. The people looking after the roads had to make sure that anyone in any house suspected of stealing ice cream, or harbouring stolen ice cream, were prevented from using the roads. Again, no proof needed. Failure to do this would mean the road-looker-afterers would also be fined.

5. If asked, the people looking after the roads would also have to report on the movements of the people who lived in the houses. Which roads they used. When. To do what.

6. Anyone providing maps or similar tools that could be used to find houses that may be suspected of harbouring people who steal ice cream, or of storing stolen ice cream,  would also be prevented from making those maps available to anyone. Again without proof.

7. Axe murderers were to be allowed to use the roads. Child molesters were also to be allowed to use the roads. The only people banned were those suspected of stealing ice cream or handling stolen ice cream.

8. The councillors had the president-for-life power to amend and extend this Ice Cream Law at will.

If it happened where you live, that would be horrible, wouldn’t it? People use roads for so much more than banana ice cream. There are so many ways to get banana ice cream. Some people even give it away for free, they make their money selling the spoons and cups and napkins. Some banana ice cream makers have lost faith with the distributors; so they now make and sell the ice cream themselves, telling passers-by to pay whatever they like, only if they like it. And people pay.

People use the roads to learn and to teach. People use the roads to take children to school. People use the roads to take the elderly to hospital. People use the roads to go shopping. The town is an open town, many people use the roads just to get from A to B. People use the roads to keep the town clean, to make sure that everyone gets what they need. Some people even use the roads to walk to council meetings.

In fact people use the roads for many many things besides banana ice cream.

Which is why the change in the law made so many of the townspeople very angry. They didn’t believe that banana ice cream stealing was going on at the levels that are claimed. They didn’t believe that the banana ice cream industry was losing as much revenue to stealing as the industry claimed. They didn’t believe that ice cream vans had much of a future, they thought that there are better ways to make and deliver ice cream. Some of them didn’t think that ice cream distribution was all that important anyway.

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in a Banana Ice Cream Republic?

Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

WH Auden, The Unknown Citizen.

28 thoughts on “The Digital Economy Bill: Thinking about Banana Ice Cream”

  1. Spectacular. But you missed one key point: imagine this banana ice cream was magic ice cream that could replicate itself — it wasn’t ever actually be “stolen”, just infinitely replicated. This was magical ice cream — and this angered the distributors greatly…

  2. You’re absolutely right, Dean. I was saving up all the “maker” arguments for today’s follow-up post, but I missed an opportunity. I could have started the Maker argument knee-deep in ice cream. Thanks!

  3. Best post I have read on this subject. Even the politicians would understand this one, I do hope they read it in time. Well done.

  4. I like ice cream and I like roads. If they introduce this terrible law, we should organise ice cream parties styled on Come Dine With Me across the land, and drive cool boxes of home made ice cream to and fro, between friends, colleagues and neighbours.

  5. and I would never vote for that councillor or anyone closely related to that councillor.

    but remember, we’re all going to be making ice cream. taught by makers. not distributors.

  6. I’m thinking about the cyber locker equivalent for banana ice cream – hmm. But at least this counters the basic argument; even though “stealing is wrong”, the response is disproportioniate.

    Maybe MSM will take this up?

  7. @DE thanks. I pinged Shane Richmond just in case he can do something about it. I suspect no one in Murdochracy has the guts to run it.

  8. Imagine that the ice cream companies made people queue up for the ice cream and, once there was a huge queue, they sold lots and lots of the ice cream very quickly. Sometimes the ice cream would be fantastic but sometimes the ice cream would be rather disgusting. People selling a tea spoon of the ice cream before everyone had queued up would result in the bad ice cream not selling nearly so well. Some how the loss would be put down to the people who stole the tea spoon of ice cream rather than because the product was inferior and news had gotten out.

    Thank-you for the analogy JP. Happy Easter.

  9. @bluebus you make an important point. in the opensource world profits are socialised and losses are privatised, unlike the financial world where the opposite happens.

  10. Wow! Incredible analogy that suits even the simpleton like I. Hopn this draconian measures are contained.

    Many thanx!

  11. I love the use of analogies to make it easier to make sense of complex issues or ones that novices find difficult to comprehend. This tale is no exception. I urge everyone to read this AND to listen to/watch Matt Mason’s recent ‘Pirates Dilemma’ presentation to the Games Base. Learning conference. Now all you need is to recruit some guerilla film maker to tell this tale in pictorial form and screen it nationally.

  12. Blocking all the roads would not prevent all of the self replicating ice cream using short range point to point “Blue-String” from being used to replicate (carry) ice cream from house to house. (oh great picture of tin & (blue) string telephones just popped into my head).

    Or packing lots of ice cream into a postage stamp sized storage container and lending it one to your mates where it will replicate into their freezer..

  13. Great analogy! I really like it!
    Recently I started posting interestnig analogies I found on the web on I thought it could be a good idea to create a place where people can share useful analogies. Check it out!

  14. Dean, I wanted to get the Makers/Digital Natives arguments out first. So that’s what I’ve done in my next post. The Sunday post will look at the “extreme nonrival good” nature of stuff digital

  15. If you listened to Peter Wishart’s rant yesterday in parliament, it must have been with a mounting sense that he had nicked your idea.

    There should be a law against that.

    Oh, wait….

  16. “not the guys who created the delicacies” just how niave are you. The production of ice cream means that the produces of the milk, cream etc also need to be paid and how do you think they get the goods to the manufacturer? Stop moaning and just face facts that people just like ‘free’ and will avoid paying for anything if they think they can get away with it..

  17. The same old argument – we are mavericks and we expect everything in the world to be free – you want freedom without responsibility. No one can make a living from that, and that’s what your ice cream argument fails to address, other people’s livings.
    Find the payment models that work first, and then you might just persuade people but until that time, you’re negatively affecting everyone ability to assign a fiscal value to work.

  18. Turns out the roads are governed by an unelected authority. Let’s call it OffRoad because that’s amusing.

    In fact it’s only OffRoad who can tell the people who look after the roads to prevent householders from using them. It’s not the ice cream distributors or the people who look after the roads who make the decision.

    No proof needed, you’re right. The degree of suspicion required for a ban is determined by a Code of Practice yet to be published. Here’s the bad news: the ice-cream distributors are proposing a Code of Practice they have written themselves.

    OffRoad have promised to consult householders and the people who look after the roads about this. No mention of the ice-cream makers though.

    It’s up to us householders to make sure we stay abreast of this consultation.

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