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Digital Economy: More heat than light?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 12:27 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

Making its way through Parliament right now is something which its supporters say will be the magic bullet which will save Britain's creative industries from doom, while opponents claim it could destroy life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Digital Economy BillI'm talking of course about the Digital Economy Bill, which turns much of Lord Carter's Digital Britain report into law.

Last week in the Lords, Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers managed to strike out one of the bill's most controversial clauses which would have given future government extensive powers to amend copyright law - only to replace it with something that opponents say will have even more damaging consequences.

The new clause will allow content-creators to take court action which could force internet service providers to block access to sites which repeatedly infringe copyright.

The Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA), which represents ISPs, issued a press release in which it said it was "outraged" by this amendment, which it described as "misjudged" and "disproportionate".

The prominent blogger and web-freedom campaigner Cory Doctorow went further, warning that in trying to end the use of "web lockers" for copyright infringement, the Lords could cripple services like Google Docs and You Send It, and end up damaging Britain.

Despite the imminence of a general election, it's now looking quite likely that a bill which has the support of the main parties could well end up in law.

That's making the angry chorus about its implications even louder - but in all the noisy headlines about YouTube being doomed and innocent victims having their human rights abused when their internet connections are cut off, I've read little detailed examination of the bill.

When I read the British writer Paul Carr's piece on the bill on the Techcrunch blog (contains some strong language), I was expecting more heat than light.

To my surprise, after some knockabout stuff in the first few paragraphs, the post turns into a seemingly-thoughtful inquiry; unlike most responses, the author says he has looked closely at the actual wording of the bill. You can do so here.

You may disagree with Mr Carr's conclusions, but the post does us all a favour by pointing out that the debate is just a bit more complex than many have assumed.


  • Comment number 1.

    One problem with enabling "content-creators to take court action which could force internet service providers to block access to sites which repeatedly infringe copyright" is that, unlike even the DMCA, which isn't particularly public-friendly, there are no safeguards in the bill to protect sites or ISPs from malicious, vexatious, groundless or anti-competitive attacks by rights-holders (let's not call them "content creators" - they aren't: they're publishers at best and the actual content creators get as bad a deal as the public in many cases).

    In the US, even with some safeguards, those on the receiving end of such attacks tend to fold before they begin because they don't have the financial resources for a legal battle with big corporations.

    There need to be stiff penalties for vexatious attacks and safeguards to protect ordinary people and small companies from groundless attacks that they cannot imagine having the resources to defend against. Those safeguards are currently missing from the proposed legislation. At present a site could be taken down for UK users simply on the word of a rights-holder, whether the request is legitimate or not.

  • Comment number 2.

    There has been a lot of hysteria on both sides of this argument and Paul does a very good job of making it clear & concise for people to read (once you get through the flowery prose at the beginning).

    Like he said, it's not that bad... but that still doesn't make the Bill any good.

  • Comment number 3.

    states that people have the option to appeal per infringement, and that an entity can issue upto 50 complaints that may be appealed, however isn't this in itself brutal? Who on earth can afford to take time out from work to handle 50 appeals, none of which will have any level of acceptable evidence, because it's still simply the case that an IP address is not, and cannot be evidence of individual or group infringement simply because it's too easy to fake. Also the evidence of such an IP address being used for infringing purposes is something that any old joe could knock together with a copy of Microsoft pain or a text editor in about 10 minutes flat- should it ever really be possible to be able to create fake evidence in 10 minutes, and force people into a choice of upto 50 appeals meaning they'd basically have to give up their job to attend them or, face penalties?

    He also states that the blocking laws are fine, because sites are only blocked if they refuse to remove infringing content, but here's the problem, not all countries are equal. Why should a German file serving host have to remove files that are perfectly legal in it's country? What if that host also hosts other materials such as, say the sort of content you find on Wikileaks? Yes, that's right, British citizens may find themselves blocked on sites that exist to serve the public good, and expose corruption simply because said site hosted content that wasn't even illegal in the country in which it is hosted. He doesn't seem to understand the concept of blocking here, he merely thinks it's about take-downs, it's not, it's saying that if a foreign host doesn't do what a British company wants, then the whole of Britain must be blocked from accessing that host- if he really has read the bill, he obviously doesn't understand it or it's implications still.

    But then I get further down the article and find he's referring to copyright infringement as "stealing", I find that he starts going off on one about Doctorow and his political beliefs and herein lies the problem.

    Paul Carr clearly has as much of an agenda, as Doctorow does, just with opposing goals. Did you really just fall hook line and sinker for his initial niceties and honesty Rory? Did you really miss the obvious tell tale signs of someone who has a strong pro-copyright agenda- i.e. skipping a lot of the facts, and following up with attacks? He even goes so far as to create the straw man argument of tying him to tactics of the Republicans in the US.

    I'd rather listen to Doctorow thanks, at least the guy's honest about his beliefs and doesn't try and pretend he's impartial.

    Calls to start again are quite right. The DEB has failed at it's goals almost in it's entirety. Nothing int he DEB really does much to boost the UK's technology sector, and large portions of it do a lot to protect old, dying business models. The DEB is a bill to protect the past, and hold off the onslaught of the future, it is a bill that will leave Britain in the list of also-rans when it could be a nation capable of producing the next Google, the next Yahoo, the next Microsoft, the next Apple if it had any hope of government with at least a tiny bit of insight into technology.

  • Comment number 4.

    The most recent concern if the freshly added amendment 120a

    Legal review of 120a by Francis Davey

    Legal review of 120a by Lilian Edwards

    Other things worth reading:

    The Lords' own Human Rights Joint Committee. Their executive summary makes very, very interesting reading

    The Gurdian providing a detailed but easy to understand explanation of how the Digital Economy bill is trying to kill open Wi-Fi networks

    A letter to Lord Puttnam, representatives from institutions such as the University of London, British Library and the Imperial War Museum. Asking for the three strikes legislation to be amended so they do not get affected.
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    The Open Rights Group providing notes on the death of open wifi

    The Open Rights Group explaining that the government is still planning to disconnect you, just that they are calling it some thing different now.

    Liberty on condemning the Digital Economy Bill's file sharing measures on human rights grounds, saying it "runs wholly counter to a human rights compliant approach".

    From back in December a first look at the bill and what was obviously wrong with debill

    From November some thoughts on the Digital Economy Bill by Lilian Edwards

    The YouGov poll saying disconnection is a clear vote loser

    Despite appeals from the Open Rights Group and Consumer focus, no legal audit has been made to check the bill complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. Instead, we are expected to accept Lord Mandelson's word for it.

    etc etc.

    I am sure if you want more you can contact the open rights group nd they would be more than willing to give you it. Just as I am sure they have been willing to give you all the information you want for the past few months if you asked them.

  • Comment number 5.

    Problem with this bill is that it is written for the benefit of the rights holders almost exclusively. There is very little give and take. The original Copyright structure was put in place to give writers and publishes some protection for their investments with the works becoming public domain after a short period (14 years in it's original form, AFAICR). Now we have effectively indefinite terms on rights and the rights holders - as mentioned above no longer ever the original creators - have additional revenue streams from looking to make illegal practises which most consider normal and "fair use" in the terms of the US system.

    What we need is more consumer rights balanced by protection for the *original* creators of the works and not lobby-bought rights for multi-national congomerates who hoover up ownerships to works which should be in the public domain. See anything published more than, oh, say 14 years ago.

  • Comment number 6.

    This, beyond all else, shows how little the Government actually understands about the internet. Sites such as Youtube cannot realistically screen every single video posted on their website. However they do offer the chance to report abuse etc. Companies can request that certain content be taken down due to copyright and that is as far as it should go.

    I agree with the Techcrunch blog about the implications of this bill. Sites such as Youtube should be seen as another form of (free) content delivery, not as a problem.

    One of the points which made me realise how much of a raw deal some content creators (not the publishers that essentially steal all the money) get a raw deal was at a gig last month when the frontman from Job for a Cowboy said, "Buy our album or download it for free, we don't care. It p***es off the rich boys more if you download it!"

  • Comment number 7.


    I think sometimes you should just point people to the relevant documents, and ask them to feed back what issues, (or indeed good things), they may come up with. When you ask leading questions like the title of your article suggests, surely you will have people singing 'the chorus' with you.

    People should get used to reading bills and what not, anyway, because it just skews the democratic process if people leave such to the media to interpret it for them, and then simply react to the headlines which follow.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have listened to the Bill being discussed online and only relief I get is that the three strikes process or code is being given to Ofcom to sort out in 8 months with a public consultation, then there is a 3-12 month process where the European Commission has a chance to object and a further 12 months before undescribed technical measures.

    This provides some time for some sensible compromises to emerge. These could include;

    Technical measures exclude cutting folk off, it will be a human right and will be limited to slowing down the specific application of that user.

    The process is limited to the top 5% of abusers who account for >50% of p2P traffic.

    The code will merge with the ISP Fair Use Policies and will result in greater exposure of what resources we are being sold.

    Wifi is not shut down but encouraged to aid community connectivity, the offending data streams are dealt with on an individual case.

    It is probably the industry and lobbyists to blame. The Lords were not given enough to work with and thus guessing at a process which they should be supervising rather than creating.

  • Comment number 9.

    I would be very interested to hear your opinion on this's your blog right?

  • Comment number 10.

    Glyn Wintle wrote: "Despite appeals from the Open Rights Group and Consumer focus, no legal audit has been made to check the bill complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. Instead, we are expected to accept Lord Mandelson's word for it."
    Again we are being led down the wrong path on the say so of unelected person. He knows that any fair minded analysis of the 'current' bill would find the flaws in it. Which is why he wants it to through as soon as possible. I wonder who's paying for this one?

  • Comment number 11.

    All of this misses the point entirely. Technology tends to move faster than the legislation that seeks to control it. Decent ubiquitous strong encryption, TOR networks, web proxies and others render most of this bill useless before its even enacted. Soon the tools for filesharing will include all these protections as standard.

    The problem is the financial model of some sections of our creative industries. Until they can convince the consumer they're not ripping them off at the checkout, the file sharers will continue to rip the industry off over the net.

  • Comment number 12.

    Personally I don't trust anything that comes from Mandelson, just another shark. As a creator (writer) I don't care if people pay for my work or manage to download it illegally. While they're reading my stuff they're not reading someone else's! The only ones who benefit from this are the mega rich media companies like EMI and their assorted co conspirators. Since when did they ever care about the poor starving artist? They've been using and abusing artists rights for years, the only difference now is that technology has caught them with their pants down and they're struggling to grab as much money as possible. Let's be honest, movie and album downloads have been a fact of life for years but the takings from the box offices haven't gone down as a result. Neither have the sales of DVDs. CDs have changed because people are choosing MP3 versions to purchase.
    Blocking access to Youtube will only put Britain further behind than we are now, hasn't Brown and his co conspirators done enough damage to Britain? The truth is they failed to convince us at Copenhagen, they've failed our soldiers in Afghanistan, they've failed the victims of crime with the Venables case and they're just desperate to push through some legislation before the rest of the country wakes up on polling day and decides they're just a bunch of phonies.
    As iwinter so succinctly pointed out, this supports older dying business models, the one liberating facet of human society is our ability to change and evolve and that means business models that don't work should die.
    As a writer I embrace the digital revolution, copying of my work is an acceptable risk and oddly enough it's one of the things that helps sell a work. You read or watch or listen and make up your own mind whether it's worth buying. If I as a writer was to sit down and work out how much money I could make from a planned piece I would never write a single word. Artists create because we love creating, the money is just something that comes after, often after years of work.
    I'm still shaking my head wondering why someone hasn't exiled Mandelson to Brussels or perhaps the island of St Kilda where he can lecture the seagulls to his heart's content.

  • Comment number 13.

    The problem with this bill is that is has been whisked in on the seductive pretence of freeing up cultural gems, the flip side is that it will be hugely damaging to the creative industries. Orphaned works will have the potential to generate money for anyone except the creator, and with the best diligence in ensuring that the works don't become orphaned in the first place by embedding metadata in a digital photograph for example, that information is routinely removed on submission to large organisations, even trusted ones like the BBC!

    As long as this electronic metadata is not robust, intrusive ownership notices across images will become the norm. With Peter Mandelsons big giveaway, the only real beneficiaries will not be the public and culture, but big business.

  • Comment number 14.

    @5 "Problem with this bill is that it is written for the benefit of the rights holders almost exclusively."

    What's wrong with that, why shouldn't copyright holders have their rights upheld?

  • Comment number 15.

    Just wanted to agree with JezzaBill and aardfrith. Content creators (amateur or professional) should have the right to decide for themselves whether they share their work freely or selectively and whether they want to give it away or try to earn something from it. The Bill does provide some protection for these rights, though probably not enough. These rights really have to take precedence over the seductive notion that everything on the internet should be free.

    Unfortunately the dreaded Section 42 of the bill looks likely to undermine any benefits from rights protection elsewhere by legitimising the concept of orphan works. This is particularly concerning to photographers and threatens to kill professional photography stone dead.


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