In his first masterstroke after his enormous success in the first leaders debate, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has promised to repeal the Digital Economy Act if elected:
“We did our best to prevent the Digital Economy Bill being rushed through at the last moment. It badly needed more debate and amendment, and we are extremely worried that it will now lead to completely innocent people having their internet connections cut off,” said Clegg.
“It was far too heavily weighted in favour of the big corporations and those who are worried about too much information becoming available. It badly needs to be repealed, and the issues revisited.”
And the Lib Dems immediately aim for the so-far ignored youth vote. Clegg is putting his money where his mouth is on freedom, missing nothing out that I know of. I’m increasingly convinced, particularly with the influence rapidly heading his way, that it’s vital that those of us who care about reversing the authoritarian agenda so loved by Labour must vote Lib Dem. Right principles, right priorities and credible, focused leadership: I’m sure impressed.
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 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.
The government remains determined to pass its Digital Economy Bill, despite its provisions for secret, unaccountable state censorship, bullying websites corporate media doesn’t like off the web, wiping out wireless networks merely for a single accusation of ‘piracy’ levelled against one of their users, and throwing entire households off the internet itself. Dan Bull and TalkTalk have collaborated to create the video below, which is supposed to illustrate just how ‘damaged’ corporate music was by the introduction of previous new technologies it didn’t like.
If you haven’t already emailed your MP to force a debate on, or preferably to kill this Bill (which would severely further damage the rule of law in this country), you can do so easily and quickly here. Noone is denying that copyright needs to be reformed, or that there aren’t genuine problems associated with piracy; this Bill solves neither problem.
Should corporate music be able to control your access to the net? Should Peter Mandelson be able to block any website he dislikes on a whim? Should any powerful rights holder be able to bully any website they like off the web? Should wireless networks in schools and universities be fundamentally put at risk through the actions of just a single user? Those are the inevitable outcomes of Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill, which has now been passed by the House of Lords and is now on course to be endorsed by the House of Commons without even a debate. As Gary Marshall at Techradar puts it:
This isn’t about file sharing or fighting for your right to download dodgy MP3s. It’s about much more than that.
It’s about stopping a law that could bring libel-style censorship to UK ISPs, forcing them to block the next YouTube on copyright owners’ say-so – with no penalties for organisations making misguided or malicious accusations. It’s not hard to imagine politically awkward sites such as Wikileaks ending up on the blocklist too.
It’s about stopping a law that would make cafes and libraries responsible for their users’ activities, bringing an end to open Wi-Fi.
It’s about stopping a law so badly written that it could shut down an entire mobile phone network for a dodgy 3G download.
It’s about stopping a law that enables anyone to rip off photographers by removing image data and claiming they couldn’t find out who took the photo.
It’s about stopping a law that penalises the law-abiding majority – by upping ISP costs and therefore everyone’s broadband bills – for the actions of a tiny minority.
It’s about heeding the concerns of crazed anti-copyright hippies such as the Metropolitan Police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and MI5.
More than anything, it’s about democracy. Despite the Digital Britain consultation arguing that beheading for Beyoncé downloaders wasn’t a brilliant idea, the Digital Economy Bill has become dominated by a vocal minority, the so-called creative industries, with other equally important voices marginalised or ignored completely.
The Bill must be killed in its current form and we have very little time. You must email your MP by clicking here and make it clear to them we know what the Bill is designed to do and that they have an obligation to stop it. If you value freedom of speech in this country and on the net in particular join with me in stopping this terrible piece of legislation, designed only to please New Labour’s corporate buddies.
Why isn’t the mainstream media talking about the Digital Economy Bill? If most people knew it was coming the response would be a full-scale revolution. The government’s authoritarian agenda would be in tatters; Labour would be out of power for an awful lot more than a generation. Are they scared of how to present it? Let me try:
- the government will be able to ban whatever website it likes, in secret and for no reason;
- the music industry (which is not suffering at all as a result of piracy) will get to control whether or not your family is able to access the internet at all;
- the government is convinced that banning people from the internet entirely is necessary to stop piracy, yet the majority of those engaged in ‘illegal’ downloading spend more on copyrighted material, not less;
- a new Tory/Liberal Democrat proposal, if endorsed by the Commons, would frighten websites the music and film industries don’t like into taking themselves offline;
- internet cafes, university wifi networks and the growing democratisation of the web will be destroyed, because the Bill will attack providers, not for their actions but for the actions of even just one of their users.
Does anyone really think this makes sense? There is survey evidence that young people (and who’s representing their interests at the upcoming general election?) will just find new means to bypass the government’s censorship proposals, but that’s not the fundamental point. The point is this: corporate Britain and New Labour are in cahoots, not to empower communities, but to make the excessively rich much richer and at the cost of your civil liberties and human rights. If you think that that would put us on the road to becoming China then join me at the demonstration organised by the Open Rights Group on the 24th March outside Parliament.
If you don’t stand up for your rights they will be taken away from you. It’s just how this government operates.
Just in case you were wondering where the idea for a web blocking amendment came from, we attach to this blog post a copy of the BPI’s draft, along with their justification for it.
Now, amendments often come from lobby and campaign groups, including us, not least because it’s the easiest way for them to show parliamentarians what they want. But the fact that twice, with the original copyright by diktat proposal, and then the web blocking proposal, the BPI essentially got to write what they wanted and get it proposed more or less wholesale as law, in such a tremendously sensitive area and in such a one-sided manner, shows something is very wrong with the way this debate is being conducted.
Parliamentarians need to recognize that copyright touches everyone and every technology in the digital age. It is no longer a question of inter-business regulation and deals. Getting copyright wrong has the potential to mess up our freedom of speech, prevent us from getting the benefits of new technologies, and damage society in other very profound ways.
It is therefore deeply inappropriate for such fundamental proposals to have been introduced by both the government or the opposition parties at the behest of one side of the debate. That applies just as much to disconnection, which Mandelson introduced in the summer at the last minute under pressure again from the BPI and other rights holders.
As the Conservatives launch their digital policies today – we again ask why these proposals are being supported, in such direct contradiction to their apparent aims?
We again urge you to take action on the Digital Economy Bill, and challenge your local candidates to say what they think.
(And come to our demonstration on March 24)
While I don’t believe that the new Hadopi “three strikes” law in France has started being enforced yet (due to data privacy questions), it technically went into effect at the beginning of the year, and was widely promoted around France. Of course, our big question was why anyone thought that such laws would actually make anyone buy. The general reasoning that supporters of such laws gave is that it would decrease unauthorized file trading, and those people would magically want to start buying again. But, of course, as mentioned at the time, we already have empirical data that this wouldn’t work. After all, here in the US, thousands of people were threatened with millions of dollars in fines for file sharing — a punishment significantly more stringent than losing your internet connection. And, rather than decrease the amount of unauthorized file trading, it only increased (quite a bit), often moving to more underground resources.
So it should come as little (i.e., no) surprise that in the few months since the Hadopi law has technically been in effect in France, reports have found an increase in unauthorized file trading, along with a notable shift from BitTorrent to other, less trackable, solutions.
So what’s next? Suing doesn’t work. Kicking people off the internet doesn’t work. Can we hope that maybe next on the list is actually putting in place a good business model?
And this is the biggest stupidity of Dark Lord Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill. He seriously thinks that by setting draconian punishments for ‘illegal’ downloading he can change people’s behaviour. The evidence worldwide suggests otherwise, and the people who are instead most likely to be disadvantaged are legitimate businesses, libraries, universities, websites and ISPs who don’t feel they can afford to get sued for the behaviour of individuals entirely unconnected with them. And that’s without the bill’s provision for secret and arbitrary web censorship by the Secretary of State. It’s stupid legislation which shouldn’t be allowed to pass.
Join me at the demonstration against it on 24th March.
Cory Doctorow explains in a nutshell why Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill is so wrong:
And the BBC has conducted a survey which has found some interesting attitudes which back his perspective up:
Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests.
The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.
Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.
International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access.
“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,” Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News.
“The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created.”
He said that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water”.
“We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
Interestingly though in Britain 55% of those surveyed believed there was also a case for some governmental regulation of the Internet. The gap between attitudes is what Mandelson is counting on in order to get the Bill through before the general election. Due process and the rule of law would continue their decline under this draconian piece of legislation, and this and successive governments would not just be allowed to censor the Internet as they saw fit (and in secret), but they would also severely damage the most important new communication resource since the telephone. For what? Appeasement of the Labour Party’s corporate friends? What’s getting lost in this argument are the facts about filesharing:
- internet ‘pirates’ spend more on copyrighted material than they download;
- the music industry isn’t threatened by ‘piracy’, nor is the film industry
Should it then be possible to knock out university and library wifi connections (or most likely encourage them to knock themselves out for fear of future infringement) because of the possibility that one user might anger a corporate copyright holder? Should it be possible for corporate rights holders to bully websites into going offline? Should it then be possible to throw whole families off the Internet even though that family might already spend more on music and films than most other families? What about blocking websites if one of their users infringes copyright? Our priorities are all wrong. Join me to protest this disgraceful piece of legislation the week after next outside parliament. No doubt The Prince of Darkness will get his way; he always seems to. But as with the Iraq War those of us who can see what’s coming need to stand up for what’s right.
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.