Last week I wrote about the great news on the ACTA front, but sadly that's just one battle we need to win. Another is against the insanely retrogressive Digital Economy Bill – an ironic name if ever there were one, given that it seeks to impose the old rules of the *analogue* economy on the digital world. As such, it is likely to have a huge negative impact on companies using the Internet (that is, anyone in business not still using the abacus.)
The Bill is reaching a critical stage, and Boing Boing reports on a very timely leak:
In this leaked, six-page email, Richard Mollet, the Director of Public Affairs for the British Phonographic Institute (the UK's record-industry lobbyists), sets out the BPI's strategy for ramming through the Digital Economy Bill, a sweeping, backwards reform to UK copyright law that will further sacrifice privacy and due process in the name of preserving copyright, without actually preserving copyright.
The email [.pdf] begins worryingly upbeat, and then introduces a rather curious issue:
The prospects for a Digital Economy Bill which delivers meaningful action for rightsholders sits between good and middling this week. That is to say, the Bill as a whole should still make it to the statue book, but the clause on non P2P infringement is imperilled by security forces concerns.
This is what the security forces are worried about:
If evading blocking systems becomes a mainstream activity (and there’s said to be 6-7 million illegal file sharers in the UK) then it will be used, almost automatically, by subversive groups — preventing the spooks from examining the traffic patterns and comprehending the threat.
So the Digital Economy Bill in its current form will not only damage the British economy, it might even damage national security, too. In other words, this Bill is utterly one-sided, where the only winners are a music recording industry too lazy to change, and the losers are everyone else.
Aside from that information that the security forces might be against certain parts of the Bill, the other revelation is the following section:
As for the House of Commons – which will be sent the Bill next week – there is a strange sense of detachment. MPs with whom we spoke back in Autumn are already resigned to the fact that they will have minimum input into the provisions from this point on, given the lack of time for detailed scrutiny. One leading backbencher has told us that there is “little point in meeting, since the Bill will be determined at wash-up.” That said, John Whittingdale – an inveterate “timing sceptic” (i.e. he's for the Bill but doesn't think it wil get through in time) has said this week that he still thinks it could be lost if enough MPs protest at no having the opportunity to scrutinise it. Whilst true in constitutional theory terms, the hard politics of the situation makes it seem unlikely. And inveterate opponents like Derek Wyatt and Tom Watson continue to blog and tweet with critical comments, but there is not the sense of a groundswell of massive opposition to the Bill.
That handily maps out is how we can stop the Bill: by creating that “groundswell of massive opposition”. What I think we need to do is to make it clear to our MPs is how the music recording industry just expects them to roll over and accept the Bill as is, rather than to carry out their parliamentary duties and to examine it and amend where appropriate. We need to get across the fact that this Bill is not incidental, but will determine the economic and social landscape for this country in the next few years; as such, it needs to be drafted carefully, not thrown together at the last minute.
Here's the letter that I've sent to my MP using WriteToThem.com:
I am writing to you about the Digital Economy Bill, which I believe the House of Commons will shortly be debating. I don't know if you've seen it, but there's an interesting email (available from http://craphound.com/BPDigitalEconomyBillweeklyminutes.pdf) in which Richard Mollet, the Director of Public Affairs for the British Phonographic Institute, has the following analysis of what will happen to the Bill there:
“As for the House of Commons – which will be sent the Bill next week – there is a strange sense of detachment. MPs with whom we spoke back in Autumn are already resigned to the fact that they will have minimum input into the provisions from this point on, given the lack of time for detailed scrutiny.”
I am writing to ask you as my representative in the House of Commons *not* to resign yourself to this fact. On the contrary, I would urge you and your fellow Parliamentarians to submit this Bill to full scrutiny, since far from being some incidental legislation that can be passed quickly without worrying too much about the details, it is in fact one of the most important Bills that will be considered in this or any other session.
At stake is nothing less than the economic and social future of this country. The danger is that the Bill in its present form will lock the UK into a 20th-century view of how arts and the media function. This might provide some temporary comfort to those music recording companies unwilling to move with the times, but it will ensure that the UK's current pre-eminent position in the world of digital media, arts and business will be lost.
Worse, the Bill in its present form threatens to exclude many families from the digital future by suspending their Internet connections without due process. This would mean, for example, that children who are socially disadvantaged would find it even harder to escape from that situation, and are likely to be condemned to second- or third-rate jobs with few prospects.
Because of the economic and social importance of the Bill's provisions, I urge you and your colleagues to weigh their consequences fully, and not to pass them with little or no debate. Please stand up for the digital future of your constituents and of this country.