The opponents are beginning to line up against Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill:
Outside parliament, hotels and educators have complained that the bill also endangers their businesses and provision of the internet to the public because of its insistence that organisations providing net access should be liable for the actions of their customers.
The bill proposes a “three strikes” rule which would mean that persistent copyright breaches would be lead to disconnection from the internet. The aim is to reduce illlicit filesharing by 70%. But in a letter (PDF) to Lord Puttnam, representatives from institutions such as the University of London, British Library and the Imperial War Museum, said: “Because public institutions often provide internet access to hundreds or thousands of individual users, the complexity of our position in relation to copyright infringements must be taken into consideration.”
It says that the bill is unclear about the role of “intermediaries” such as libraries in the bill.
The letter added: “If this is not done, a public institution such as a library, school or university’s internet connection as a whole could be jeopardised, resulting in loss of internet access to large sections of the public, particularly the 15 million citizens without an internet connection at home.”
Meanwhile, the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which represents thousands of hotel, catering and leisure establishments, worries that the requirement in the bill for hotels to provide guest details to an internet service provider (ISP) where copyright infringement is alleged could be impossible in some cases – and that hotels might be disconnected if guests are persistently infringing copyright.
Disconnection would endanger a hotel’s business which the BHA said would be a “grossly unfair consequence” of a guest’s action.
It strikes me as bizarre the level to which the government is determined to control the population, to punish protest, to clamping down on freedom of speech, to the sharing of ideas, you name it. Throwing people off the internet without a trial? Banning websites because Secretaries of State don’t like them? No accountability for these decisions worth a damn? What would this do to schools’ internet access? Hotels’? Libraries? Is New Labour so inextricably wedded to monolithic corporate interests that it’s prepared to take British culture down in the name of ‘protecting copyright’?
The business case for the Digital Economy Bill hasn’t been proven: music profits are up, as are takings at the cinema. Certainly in the latter case it’s had something to do with better product being released, but a greater lesson was shown this last year as well in the case of copyright infringement and film. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released early in 2009 to critical derision – it was a lousy film, which deserved to crash and burn at the box office. A near-complete print was even leaked to the Internet and circulated virally worldwide, yet the film did extraordinarily well. And there is no evidence whatsoever that the pre-release leak damaged the film’s takings at all – on the contrary it’s more than likely that it increased the excitement for the final print’s release. As with music, all the evidence shows that people are willing to pay for product they like, and ‘pirated’ material is in fact of benefit to the market, allowing people to decide in advance what it is they like. Why then should the rule of law be suddenly abandoned?
For that matter should schools, universities, hotels, libraries, all sorts of public buildings and organisations, suddenly become in effect state informers? Has the government learned nothing from the ISA debacle? It’s crazy to legislate with a wrecking ball to crack a nut. Noone’s suggested the problem of illegal downloading (or paedophilia in the case of the ISA) isn’t there, but this will hurt far more than the few who really are out to breach copyright on an industrial level. It’s not just stupid, it’s insidious and will damage us all.
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