Who Was Really Behind the Digital Economy Act?

It was just over a year ago that the Digital Economy Act was passed. Of course, the battle to stop this insanity goes on, although the recent verdict against BT and TalkTalk does not bode well. But rather than re-visit all that is wrong with...

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It was just over a year ago that the Digital Economy Act was passed. Of course, the battle to stop this insanity goes on, although the recent verdict against BT and TalkTalk does not bode well. But rather than re-visit all that is wrong with the bill, I want to talk about how it was passed.

Here's how Computerworld UK described it at the time:

The Digital Economy Bill has been passed to the final stage before becoming law, after a minor debate in which only a handful of the country's 646 MPs turned up.

Months of heated campaigning and debate had taken place between those for and against the bill, as well as hundreds of phone calls being made to local MPs. Petitions with thousands of signatures against the bill had been presented to the Commons, and tens of thousands of pounds was spent by campaigners on large newspaper advertisements. But under 40 MPs turned up to yesterday's key Commons debate.

There is something of a cognitive dissonance between those two paragraphs: despite "months of heated campaigning and debate", calls to MPs and petitions, "under 40 MPs turned up" for actual vote.

Now, you might say that was to be expected, since the bill was put forward as part of the wash-up before the imminent election. MPs at that stage were more focussed on their own survival than details of copyright law.

But that raises the key question: why was this included in the wash-up? Was it really some of the most important legislation that needed passing before Parliament was dissolved? And if it was, why wasn't it accorded a full debate that the preceding months of argument clearly indicated was necessary?

There's something very fishy here, and I wonder whether it might have something to do with this:

Wikileaks has released dozens of new U.S. cables that demonstrates years of behind the scenes lobbying by U.S. government officials to pressure Canada into implementing a Canadian DMCA. The cables include confirmation that Prime Minister Harper personally promised U.S. President George Bush at the SPP summit in Montebello, Quebec in 2008 that Canada would pass copyright legislation, U.S. government lines on copyright reform that include explicit support for DMCA-style digital lock rules, and the repeated use of the Special 301 process to "embarrass" Canada into action. In fact, cables even reveal Canadian officials encouraging the U.S. to maintain the pressure and disclosing confidential information.

It's worth reading all of that post to get an idea of just how spineless Canada's top politicians were when the US started making its demands for tougher copyright laws. Now, given that Wikileaks has shown that the US was also bullying Sweden and Spain to do the same, does it not seem likely that it was also putting pressure on Gordon Brown to pass the Digital Economy Act? After all, the more countries that implement the "three-strikes and you're out" legislation, the easier it is for the US to push others to do the same – and to accept things like ACTA.

Now, I've no proof that the US was working behind the scenes in this way, but it is at the very least plausible given what we now know about its role in Canada, Sweden and Spain. It would certainly explain the extraordinary and shameful events of that otherwise incomprehensible wash-up session. I can't wait to see whether Wikileaks might be able to provide some elucidation of who was really behind it.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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