Still refusing to speak with one voice, the ConDemNation coalition has now announced it doesn’t intend to repeal the Digital Economy Act:
“We’re not going to repeal it,” the new UK government’s Conservative culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told paidContent:UK.
Instead, the administration will wait to see how the act’s measures perform and, if alterations or something more is needed, take action later, Hunt said.
That means the graduated-response anti-piracy action – which would level education or warning letters against freeloading ISP customers, leading to possible account suspension – will remain in place, along with all the bill’s other measures (see our recent quick-hit guide).
But the proposal for blocking sites containing infringing material was never part of the act, it was part of a separate parliamentary process instituted by Labour in the previous government’s dying days; so it is unlikely to see light of day.
The section of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s detailed joint plans about media contains no reference to the Digital Economy Act.
Opposition to the act during its bill stage was vociferous from some online quarters, and the campaign is still going even though the act is law. Some party members of the coalition Liberal Democrats appear to still favour repeal.
But many sections of the media and cultural creation industry will welcome the retention of measures that seek to protect their intellectual property.
It’s a painful reminder that the coalition won’t speak with one consistent voice – Clegg may be pushing civil liberties and rollback of the surveillance state, but he’s still in coalition with the Conservative Party. The Deputy PM may have insisted on repeal of the Act before the election, but it does appear to be something he’s traded off in the coalition agreement. It’s a good lesson that we must all vote for whom we want at election time, but must then get involved in civil society pressure groups in order for what we voted for actually to get implemented. Sadly it also suggests that the coalition’s claims to want to roll back state intrusion aren’t quite as total as they want us to believe.
The man who wants to be Prime Minister isn’t above the odd terminological inexactitude, any more than the incumbent. From his article today in The Times:
So instead, we are asking you to join in the government of your nation. We want everyone to get involved in the running of their country. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you want — we are offering you a heartfelt invitation to join with us and help change Britain for the better.
What an absolute fraud. As Graham Linehan on Twitter says:
A week ago, MPs ignored thousands of people who wanted a proper debate on #debill. Now, they want us to “get involved”. They can go hang.
They can indeed. New Labour promises ‘power back in your hands’:
The people will be given ‘the power to decide’ how to make parliament more ‘accountable’ and ‘democratic’, they say. Another utter fraud. They’ve already had their opportunity to be accountable and democratic, tens of thousands of us asked them to and almost to a number they refused. This general election is a whole lot of hot air – meaningless promises offering nothing to anyone. What we need is a proportional voting system. What we need is an elected Senate to replace the House of Lords. What we need is fixed term parliaments to remove the need for ‘wash up’ periods. What we need is new blood coming into the Commons who aren’t career politicians. What we don’t need is yet more platitudes about how we should ‘get involved’, but Cameron more than Brown has no interest in relinquishing the power necessary for that to mean anything.
Another poll tax-style rebellion looming? From the Talk Talk blog:
It looks like much of the Digital Economy Bill will make it through to get Royal Assent by the end of the week.
The Bill is now in much better shape than when first tabled by the Government last year – the ability of the Government to impose disconnection at will has been checked and the Henry VIII clause that literally allowed the Government to do anything else to reduce copyright infringement has been removed.
However, many draconian proposals remain such as the responsibility on customers to protect their home networks from hacking at a collective cost of hundreds of millions of pounds a year, the presumption that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent and, as in China, the potential for legitimate search engines and websites to be blocked.
This is made all the more appalling by the ability of big music and film companies to influence government and the absence of any proper debate or scrutiny by MPs – only 5% of MPs turned up for the brief debate yesterday and the other important Parliamentary stages will be bypassed in the wash-up process.
TalkTalk will continue to battle against these oppressive proposals – they will require ’secondary legislation’ before they can be implemented.
After the election we will resume highlighting the substantial dangers inherent in the proposals and that the hoped for benefits in legitimate sales will not materialise as filesharers will simply switch to other undetectable methods to get content for free.
In the meantime we stand by our pledges to our customers:
- Unless we are served with a court order we will never surrender a customer’s details to rightsholders. We are the only major ISP to have taken this stance and we will maintain it.
- If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rightsholders we’ll see them in court.
A letter has been written by UK Internet giants including Facebook, Google and eBay and published in the Financial Times, slamming the Digital Economy Bill:
In a letter to the Financial Times, the group, which also includes UK ISPs such as BT and TalkTalk, said the amendment to the Digital Economy Bill has “obvious shortcomings” and will lead to an “increase in internet service providers blocking websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without cases even reaching a judge”.
The amendment to Clause 17 of the bill, which was passed by the House of Lords last week, gives High Court judges the power to force ISPs to block access to any website with a “substantial” amount of copyright infringing content, such as YouTube.
“Endorsing a policy that would encourage the blocking of websites by UK broadband providers or other internet companies is a very serious step for the UK to take”, the companies said.
“There are myriad legal, technical and practical issues to reconcile before this can be considered a proportionate and necessary public policy option. In some cases, these may never be reconciled. These issues have not even been considered in this case.”
The companies claim the amendment has been rushed through without consultation with industry or consumers.
Although that amendment was withdrawn last night in the Commons it’s just been reinstated by the Lords – you know, those people who weren’t elected and who don’t represent any of us. Any of you who don’t feel that constitutional reform is the number one priority in political life just look at what a wash out this ‘wash up’ is! Would proportional representation and an elected Senate really bring this disgrace about?
There are very few commentators who are anything less than livid about the passing of the Digital Economy Bill last night. From adoptioncurve.net:
what the DE Bill has shown us is that when the lobbyists get going, the politicians start rolling over. What business doesn’t want, society doesn’t get.
So I’ve got no faith at all that our current political process will be able to deliver the changes that are going to be needed, because they’re in lock-step with the vested interests that will be most harmed by those changes. By the time we’ve managed to overcome the inertia that this will cause, it may well be too late.
I’m emphatically not saying that the Digital Economy Bill isn’t important. It is, and it’s a very clear proxy measure for the kind of culture and society that we want to be. At the moment it looks like we want to be the kind of society that locks anything and everything of value away – that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. That doesn’t value creativity, or cooperation, or anything that might conceivably not carry a profit motive. That sounds like a pretty bleak kind of place, even if it’s the stuff of a Murdochian wet dream. And it’s not a place I want to be part of.
Tim makes an overwhelmingly important point. The bill sends out a very clear message about the sort of society which New Labour and the Tories want to see – not just one dominated by vested, corporate interests, but one where the traditional, social values which used to bind us together are absent. It’s not just about Peter Mandelson now being allowed to block any website he likes from the Internet in the UK in secret and for any reason he chooses, it’s about marketising ideas, reducing creativity to a cost/benefit, profit-related process. I, like Tim, would like society to have values which aren’t determined by neo-liberal economics, which can’t be reduced to a balance sheet, which are intuitively shared and enjoyed. That our politicians do not should alarm each and every one of us.
Gary Marshall from Techradar is angry about the Digital Economy Bill stitch-up:
If we’ve learnt one thing from the Digital Economy Bill fiasco, it’s that you should never underestimate the idiocy and venality of politicians. With a few honourable exceptions our MPs ignored tens of thousands of letters from thousands of constituents and didn’t bother to turn up for the debates.
Of the few MPs who did turn up, most of them said how bad the Bill was and what a shocking abuse of Parliament it was, which was why they were going to vote for it anyway. Some MPs clearly didn’t have a clue what any of it was about, which was why they were going to vote for it. Some MPs were pretty convinced that the BIll’s plans wouldn’t work, which was why they were going to vote for it. And so, depressingly, on.
It’d be funny if it weren’t so serious, because if you really wanted to fight piracy the last thing you’d do is wind up thousands of geeks who understand things like encryption.
If you were serious about protecting creativity you’d pay attention to the howls of horror from authors and analysts alike. If you wanted a balanced debate you wouldn’t just rubber-stamp paragraphs written by the BPI, and trot out statistics that have long been discredited.
If you really cared about the digital economy you wouldn’t introduce legislation that could kill public Wi-Fi, smother high-tech start-ups and get home businesses knocked off the net should the owner’s kids download the odd file.
And if you wanted to be re-elected, you wouldn’t alienate your most vocal potential voters.
The whole sorry fiasco has in my opinion been as, if not more damaging than the expenses scandal. At least with the expenses scandal there was a comeback – MPs could be deselected, voted down or even prosecuted for their betrayal of voters; not in this case. Despite an unprecedented campaign, fought largely through social media, the vast majority of MPs didn’t turn up to the debate, or chose to vote with the government, and against the wishes of the entire sector of the electorate they need to reengage with to bring British politics back from the brink. The current parliamentarians have proven themselves to be utterly disinterested in representing the wishes of those who sent them there, and the consequences for the political process could be disastrous. Why bother with activism or even voting when neither makes a difference?
The General Election date has been set, Parliament has been dissolved, and the ‘wash up’ period has begun. Amongst the bills expected to be forced through without debate or parliamentary scrutiny is the Digital Economy Bill. Charles Arthur asks:
All sorts of questions remain: will the Liberal Democrats be able to derail it from moving into, and through, the wash-up? If it passes, will hotels and libraries and teashops and McDonalds shut down their open Wi-Fi? And if it passes and a Tory government comes in, and slices and dices Ofcom as it has indicated it would want to, will its effectiveness in monitoring processes in the bill be affected?
I’ve made the problems with the bill abundantly clear in previous posts, as well as the democratic deficit in pushing such a dangerous piece of legislation through because the government finds it expedient to do so. There is a groundswell of backbench opinion that the bill must not be allowed to pass in its current form, but we have to make it clear to our MPs right now that they at the very least must force a debate on it (which given there’s no time would mean it would fall). You can click here for all the resources you need to get through to them and do everything you can to prevent them from committing the greatest attack on civil liberties since New Labour began its authoritarian assault on them in 1997.
If you believe in the rule of law, in due process, in the right to free speech, please email your MP by clicking here and urge them to force a proper, democratic debate and parliamentary scrutiny for this bill. The reasons why can be found here. Its second reading is due next Tuesday so time is of the essence.
Could it be? Could social media actually be affecting the government’s undemocratic plans for its Digital Economy Bill?
UK Labour MP Austin Mitchell has had a change of heart on the dread Digital Economy Bill and has produced an early day motion asking to have all 24,000+ words of it subjected to scrutiny and debate, rather than being hidden away in the undemocratic, secretive “wash-up” process: “That this House believes that the Digital Economy Bill [Lords] is too important to be taken further in the last days of a dying Parliament; and considers that a bill with so many repercussions for consumers, civil liberties, freedom of information and access to the internet should be debated and properly scrutinised at length and in detail, with a full opportunity for public discussion and representation in a new Parliament after the general election and not rushed through in the few days that remain in this Parliament.” Write to your MP and support the motion!
Labour MP Tom Watson has attacked the Digital Economy Bill, due for its second reading on 6th April:
Last night Labour MP Tom Watson hit out at the government’s Digital Economy Bill, expected to be passed in April 2010, expressing concerns that the legislation is being pushed through parliament without sufficient time for debate.
Speaking before an audience of senior games industry figures at last night’s ELSPA Question Time event, Watson, MP for West Bromwich East and founder of online videogame advocacy group Gamers’ Voice, condemned the bill as ‘futile, ignorant and inept’, and the expected manner of its passing as a ‘constitutional impropriety’. He accused representatives from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and his own party’s front bench of a “back room deal”.
This parliament is more than a shambles, it’s a disgrace. They’ve stolen taxpayers’ money; they’re now trying to avoid their responsibilities yet further by not giving proper democratic debate and parliamentary scrutiny to a bill which threatens to gut multiple civil rights and human rights of pretty much everyone in the country. Click here to donate to 38 Degrees – the pressure group campaigning to force parliament to either tackle the bill according to their remit, or to drop it entirely. Our freedom of speech depends on it.
The press isn’t talking about the Digital Economy Bill. Noone knows about it, the higher echelons of New Labour are scrambling to get it passed unaltered before the general election in May, and frankly noone is protesting at the outrageous situation of an unelected government minister, who has been forced twice out of office in disgrace, who is trying very hard indeed to rescind freedom of speech for huge swathes of the population, who in turn are unable to kick him out a third time. I don’t get it. We’re talking about booting people off the internet entirely, after unproven accusations. We’re talking about the government blocking websites it simply doesn’t like. Any websites. We’re talking about Mandelson being allowed to make up copyright law on a whim rather than through the House of Commons. We’re talking walking away from due process and the rule of law, and why? Because internet filesharing is destroying the music industry’s profits? It isn’t. Because it’s damaging cinema takings? It isn’t!
The Digital Economy Bill instead fits cleanly into the narrative which New Labour has peddled since coming to power, that above everything this country needs order, and in order to do that it must be thoroughly surveilled and controlled. In order to justify this authoritarian agenda they need bogeymen and there are plenty: we need ID cards to save us from the terrorism ‘threat’, we need an ISA to save us from the paedophiles racing into every position of trust, and now we need this new law to save us from ‘pirates’, who they say are guilty of basic theft on a grand scale, which damages us all. But what if this entire narrative were a ruse, a fiction used to justify a government wedded to a corporatist, not progressive agenda?
Unelected Peter Mandelson wants to tell us files we can download. The unaccountable Internet Watch Foundation wants to tell us what images we’re allowed to see. Noone is saying that there aren’t problems with internet piracy, nor with indecent images, but is handing absolute power to unelected officials and politicians the solution? They say they can be trusted, that they have our best interests at heart, yet they are constructing the same framework as China’s – controlling the population (and convincing them they need it) rather than empowering them to make better decisions on their own. None of this is an accident, and they’re counting on successfully bribing the population in order to get away with it. We must be talking to our MPs, and everyone we know about this; the more people who understand what is really going on, the closer we’ll get to the tipping point. Britain wasn’t broken in 1997, nor is it now – join me in demanding politics of empowerment, respect, cultural enrichment and above all fairness. They can only do this for as long as we let them.
Last night I attended the demonstration outside parliament, organised by the Open Rights Group. They, I and others are determined to prevent the arbitrary passing of the Digital Economy Bill in the pre-general election ‘wash up’ period, where bills are voted on without debate or parliamentary scrutiny. Currently Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, is signalling that our wishes will be ignored and the most draconian, pro-corporate, anti-civil rights legislation yet attempted by New Labour will be waved through, regardless of the consequences. Under no circumstances should that be allowed to happen, and it was heartening to speak to Tom Watson MP after the demo – he made it clear that the organisation’s campaign to lobby MPs into demanding a debate for the Bill (which because of the limited ‘wash up’ period would mean either killing the Bill or forcing the removal of the contentious clauses 11-15) was beginning to have an effect. We must redouble our efforts, and watch the video for very clear reasons why. I spoke on Tuesday with Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty, who denounced the Bill as an attack on due process and the rule of law. She’s right, and it should concern us all.
The digital economy bill is highly controversial (What’s left of Digital Britain, Media, 22 March). We believe that it threatens to severely infringe fundamental human rights, by allowing the disconnection of internet accounts for alleged copyright infringement, and also by new “website blocking” laws that could result in new ways to suppress free speech and legitimate activity. There are also dangers to business, through restrictions on provision on open wifi networks, that could damage our economy.
But our worry today is that none of this will be properly debated by parliament. Last week, Harriet Harman MP failed to give the Commons any reassurances that this bill would be properly scrutinised by our elected MPs. Democracy and accountability will be sidestepped if this bill is rushed through and amended without debate.
For these reasons we are writing to ask that those most controversial parts of the bill – covering “technical measures” and court orders for website blocking – either be properly debated, or be taken out of the bill and subjected to genuine democratic scrutiny in a new parliament.
Anthony Barnett openDemocracy, Billy Bragg, Lord Errol, Bridget Fox Liberal Democrat PPC, Islington South & Finsbury, Jo Glanville Editor, Index on Censorship, John Grogan MP, Andrew Heaney Director of regulation, TalkTalk, Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat PPC, Cambridge, Julia and Simon Indelicate The Indelicates, Jim Killock Executive director, Open Rights Group, Nicholas Lansman Secretary general, ISPA, Graham Linehan screenwriter Caroline Lucas Leader, Green party, Baroness Miller, Simon Milner Director of industrial policy, BT, Peter Tatchell, Tom Watson MP, Lord Whitty Chair, Consumer Focus
(Source: The Guardian)
Contact Harriet Harman and tell her how fundamentally important debating the Bill is for our democracy itself. If you value free speech and the rule of law take two minutes right now.
Lee Griffin makes an important point about the Digital Economy Bill’s potential impact on our rights:
Internet is not a human right? Who says so?. Well if we put aside for a moment that it is clearly, legally, not an enforceable right…aren’t there other factors? First is public opinion about internet access being a right. Overwhelmingly the global populace believes internet access IS a fundamental right. So while the Government may be able to petulantly claim that they are right in a legal sense, they are still legislating against the general mood of the public. Normally this might be acceptable if it were “for the public’s own good”, but in this case it is clearly only for the good of big business.
My personal feeling is that the internet is only not a right in the same way that being able to walk out of your house is not a right. When I put this to twitter the response I got back from alexwilcock was: [Digital Economy Bill] penalties written by music biz are as if Thatcher brought in indefinite house arrest to stop home taping.
It’s an important point. Just because access to the Internet isn’t codified in the Human Rights Act, the European Convention or even the Universal Declaration doesn’t mean the public don’t understand net access to be a basic right. It has in essence already become such a fundamental necessity, that people’s lives depend on it – should it not then become a fundamental right? It’s already become one in Finland. David Burstein goes on to argue:
I might get some angry emails for this, and while today it might be difficult to make the case that internet access is as much of a basic right as food or shelter, in five or ten years, I believe there will be basic agreement on this. Those of us who have internet access now, don’t know how we would live without it. Everything we do and everything we want to do is somehow linked to our computer and our internet connection. It’s not a joke to say that those who have internet connections now need them to continue surviving. It’s how we communicate with our relatives and friends, it’s how we find phone numbers and addresses, it’s how we get our basic goods and services, it’s how most of us work and keep our jobs, and by extension provide for our families, and it’s how many people find jobs. Many of us have jobs that would be impossible to maintain without the internet, without the ability to do research or send emails we would be fired in a day.
So if people who are online now actually cannot survive without internet connections, if it allows people to advance in their careers and life position, if it is an invaluable tool, shouldn’t we afford everyone the right to have it? In fact, it seems not having internet access could be the biggest barrier to entry in just about any field or aspect of society today. If we want everyone to have the opportunity to advance in society, giving everyone internet access is a great way to make some progress.
We conduct our banking, look for jobs, conduct our entire social and love lives, book travel, order our groceries and display our creativity these days almost exclusively on the Internet. Access to it should be a codified right, and a Bill whose entire intention is to rescind access based entirely on unproven accusions should never be allowed to pass. Burstein is right – we should give everyone the opportunity to advance in society, not restrict them arbitrarily, purely to please New Labour’s corporate friends. If you haven’t already, email your MP right now to stop the government from rushing it through before the general election.