Friday, April 09, 2010

Digital Economy Bill: All Washed Up

The Digital Economy Bill has been passed by the House of Commons and will become law before the general election. The Bill enables ministers to force ISPs to disconnect households or businesses has been controversial and raised significant public opposition with over 20,000 emails , thousands of tweets and letters to MPs of all parties. It has shown the digital divide that we live in today. On one side we have the consumers who believe they should be able to share and copy their files and on the other the media industry that demand payment for the use of them. There are many grey areas, no one is right and no one is wrong and the sand that we all stand on is continually shifting.

We believe that the IP addresses are an unsafe identification of infringers. A fact that has been proven even before this law is past. We also believe that targeting the owner of the IP address is counter productive and makes open WiFi impractical and fraught with risk. We also believe that people should be innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around. Despite amendments and the initial experience of the French law, these clauses have been passed.

We also believe that clause 43 which was in all intents a licensed ‘land grab’ of orphan works was rewriting copyright without full debate. Politicians being politicians love to make deals and in return for their support of the Parliamentary 'wash up' of the bill, the Conservative Party demanded the exclusion of Clause 43 from the Bill. So some good was done.

However the Bill was passed by the division bell and MPs who merely voted at the end. The official Hansard text of the 5 hour debate (a 243-page PDF, starting on page 836 ) is not a page turning experience but is a frustrating read and insight into how bad law can be ‘washed up’. A critic of the bill has posted details of who bothered to attend, who merely voted at the end and obviously who didn’t bother, which if accurate also makes sad reading.

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt who did not oppose the Bill called it a "a weak, dithering and incompetent attempt to breathe life into Britain's digital economy” and that if they came to power in they would fix any problems with the Bill, "if it turns out that the legislation is flawed." But why support the creation of bad law in the first place? The Liberal Democrats, who advocated openly that the Bill should be scrapped and reintroduced in the next Parliament, had just one representative at the second reading.

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