Terminological capture

This morning’s Observer column.

Rule number one in ideological warfare is to capture the terms in which the debate is conducted. If you can do that, you’re well on your way to winning the argument. Thus the religious right describes itself as “pro-life” and characterises abortion as “murder”, which means that anyone who does not share its views is, apparently, anti-life and in favour of murder. It’s preposterous, but it happens all the time.

This practice of terminological capture is the stock in trade of lobbyists, especially those employed by the music and movie industries. Thus any unauthorised use of copyrighted materials is always “theft”, anyone engaging in file-sharing is a “pirate”, and so on. And technical measures introduced by those industries to protect digital content are called “digital rights management” (DRM), a reassuring term implying that the user is managing something that is rightfully theirs. In fact, they are really digital restriction measures whose sole purpose is to constrain the consumer.

Governments and legislators everywhere are suckers for terminological capture…