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The public are right to think we are pretty pointless
April 7, 2010 6:05 PM   Subscribe

The Digital Economy Bill has passed the UK House of Commons on its third reading, despite strong opposition in the chamber, from digital rights activist group ORG, and from the public.

A spectacularly low turnout at the second reading on the 6th April (UK Mefites can check their own MP's attendance here) was - unusually - criticised in the Telegraph, following a bizarre debate where the leader of the Swedish Pirate Party was falsely accused of having been imprisoned while both major parties were correctly accused of having recently breached copyright themselves in campaign posters.

A scratch Twitter petition against the Bill posted some time the following afternoon received over 3000 names, before the Bill passed that night, while an open letter to its Parliamentary supporters, outlining objections, acquired over 650 signatories. The unprecedented strength of feeling against the bill among UK Twitter users (eg) may partly be explained by the fact that the BPI turned out to have drafted large portions of it. But it passed the third reading anyway by a large margin as part of standard pre-election wash-up procedure.

Those interested in an detailed lawyerly view of the Digital Economy Bill should read the excellent blog by legal academic Lilian Edwards, who explores the ramifications of the bill in detail.
posted by motty (46 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's votes like this that make me think it's time for rules that you don't get to vote unless you've sat on the benches for the debate.

They'd probably still follow the vote, but at least the spectacle of virtually every voice speaking saying "this is a terrible idea, badly scrutinised" has the chance of giving some of them pause.
posted by bonaldi at 6:27 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


One side effect of the DEB, if I understand it correctly: the internet filtering infrastructure specified by the Internet Watch Foundation to filter out "child porn" sites, and opted into by ISPs on a voluntary basis (the big ones -- BT, Virgin, &c. -- are all in it, though some smaller ones aren't), becomes mandatory, with a blacklist of sites believed to infringe copyright.
posted by acb at 6:42 PM on April 7, 2010


My Labour MP fought valiantly against the bill, but as a old-timer back-bencher, there wasn't much he could do. I don't know whether to punish Labour for the terrible DEB bill by not voting for them in the upcoming election, or reward my local Labour MP by voting for him...
posted by radioedit at 7:33 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


My sources on the ground told me that the ORG's offensive against the DEB irritated enough MPs that they supported more restrictive provisions than they normally would have, even provisions they don't expect to work in practice.

Meanwhile, a coalition of trade unionists lobbied more tactfully and succeeded in modifications to the bill.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:47 PM on April 7, 2010


One side effect of the DEB, if I understand it correctly: the internet filtering infrastructure specified by the Internet Watch Foundation to filter out "child porn" sites, and opted into by ISPs on a voluntary basis (the big ones -- BT, Virgin, &c. -- are all in it, though some smaller ones aren't), becomes mandatory, with a blacklist of sites believed to infringe copyright.

Welcome to Australia, it's sunny and warm here!
posted by Jimbob at 11:56 PM on April 7, 2010


My sources on the ground told me that the ORG's offensive against the DEB irritated enough MPs that they supported more restrictive provisions than they normally would have, even provisions they don't expect to work in practice.

Really? They voted through more restrictions because they were irritated by campaigners, rather than because they reached the rational conclusion that the legislation was right for Britain? If that's true (and to be honest I struggle to believe it is) then this whole farce is even more shameful than I possibly imagined.
posted by chill at 12:46 AM on April 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was watching a bit of the feed last night, and so many times Stephen Timms was asked a question that he completely didn't answer. It was embarrassing - he seemed to know nothing about the Bill, and kept conflating issues.

Also, his answer to almost every question at an early stage was "this is just about sending letters", regardless of the fact that the findings re:the letter sending were shown to be used at a later "withdrawal of service" stage.

Shame on the 140 or so MPs who were hustled in from the pub to ram this through without listening to a word of the debate.
posted by djgh at 1:10 AM on April 8, 2010


OK - devil's advocate here - as someone who pays for downloads, and buys books, CDs and DVDs, should I really think that this is such a terrible bill?

There are appeal processes in place for cases where parents don't know what their kids are doing (for example) and why not take firm action against people who persistently illegally download music, films and so on in very large quantities? Why not cut off their internet connections?
posted by DanCall at 1:13 AM on April 8, 2010


There are appeal processes in place for cases where parents don't know what their kids are doing (for example)

That is true. If someone complains that you have been infringing copyright, your connection is terminated, but you do have the right to appeal at your own expense in a court of law. Which reverses the innocent-until-proven-guilty burden of proof and makes the appeal process too prohibitively expensive to be of actual use to the average punter.

If the BPI (or News Corp., or anyone else) sends a takedown notice to ISPs over a website that encourages copyright infringement, they have two choices: (a) add it to their blocking list, or (b) challenge that notice in a court of law, again at their own expense. Given that there is no financial incentive for an ISP to defend some obscure website in some other part of the world, they're going to choose (a).

The Digital Economy Act is a fair, reasonable, balanced law, unless one looks at the actual details of how it works.
posted by acb at 1:43 AM on April 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


OK - devil's advocate here

As someone who also pays for all their content the answer is actually quite simple (although I acknowledge this to be an opinion in much the same way that almost all political decisions are).

Its a simple matter of ensuring that punishments are proportional to the crimes. We don't tell shoplifters that they can never shop again, or even for a limited period of time, because people need to shop to live. Similarly, cutting people off from the internet is increasingly (although we aren't there yet) as important to a modern life as is shopping for goods. Please note that I said important not essential.

And yes I can see the corrolary of an individual being barred from a site that they have been convicted of 'stealing' from, but we aren't talking about that are we.

I put crimes in italics because as far as I can see the debate about illegal downloaders, with regard to music at least, is far from clear cut with many studies showing that lillegal downloaders spend MORE money on music than non illegal downloaders.

We seem to have walked into a world where all content creators expect to make money. Well, sorry, but last time I looked it was very common for most creative folk to earn bugger all. I'm talking over an historical retrosepctive here ... ie Van Gogh died in poverty etc etc ..... the vast majority of musicians don't / didn't make it, self promoted or signed to a label for a short period.

Nothing has changed except that the big businesses that grew to promote and exploit (again not making a negative statement by using the word exploit - it WAS a very appropriate model for a while) content creators, the publishers and music companies et al have had their business models destroyed by the technology that is the internet.

OK, very sad for them. But until they stop bleating about their misfortune, stop pushing energy into prosecuting teenagers etc they will not start to put energy into finding the next paradigm. And there will be one, of course there will. But until these dinosaurs are told to fuck off we can expect nothing but greater and greater delays and barriers being put in the way of progress.

History is littered with businesses destroyed by technological advances. Nothing new here, please move along.
posted by Boslowski at 1:52 AM on April 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


OK - devil's advocate here - as someone who pays for downloads, and buys books, CDs and DVDs, should I really think that this is such a terrible bill?

One of the many potential ramifications of this appalling bill, which was actually raised in Parliament last night (and not addressed at all by Timms et al): the US government could, by claiming copyright infringement on the embarrassing footage discussed here in recent days, get Wikileaks blocked in the UK.

The BPI thinks it's all about them, and it just isn't.
posted by rory at 2:06 AM on April 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


We don't tell shoplifters that they can never shop again
What's more, we don't tell the entire family of the person shop lifting that they're not allowed to shop either, for the crime of not "taking reasonable measures" to prevent their child or sibling from shoplifting.
posted by chill at 2:12 AM on April 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


OK everyone, thanks for that. So fun and games over the next few years then.
posted by DanCall at 2:16 AM on April 8, 2010


The new clause allows the secretary of state for business to order the blocking of "a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright".

Guys I just used this sweet website to find the nearest library with free wifi so I can download pirated music. QUICK! REPORT THEM TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR BUSINESS!
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:27 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Guys I just used this sweet website to find the nearest library with free wifi so I can download pirated music. QUICK! REPORT THEM TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR BUSINESS!

By the time this becomes law, there will be no free, anonymous WiFi in Britain. Small venues (pubs, cafes, &c.) will shutter their services, and the big ones will go members-only (proof of ID required for membership). There'll probably still be tourist-oriented "internet cafes", but these will take a photocopy of your passport (as they do in Italy under Berlusconi's "Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Paedophilia Law").
posted by acb at 2:40 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Guys I just used these sweet websites to find some awesome movie torrents. QUICK! REPORT THEM TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR BUSINESS!
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:56 AM on April 8, 2010


the US government could, by claiming copyright infringement on the embarrassing footage discussed here in recent days, get Wikileaks blocked in the UK.

It cuts into their profits and discourages new armies from forming and going on tour.
posted by vbfg at 3:10 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really? They voted through more restrictions because they were irritated by campaigners, rather than because they reached the rational conclusion that the legislation was right for Britain?

I think of it as a "reverse Overton window." The MPs saw the ORG as radical extremists, skewing debate towards the extreme left. So the MPs neutralized that by moving the centrist position to the right. I don't think that particularly denotes working against the public interest, except in the sense that a bill that displeases everyone equally and nobody gets exactly what they want could be seen as a centrist compromise.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:12 AM on April 8, 2010


I had a reasonably long post about my music/movie-buying habits, but it boils down to this:

As the price of items decrease, and the catalogue size increases, my purchasing of media has increased, and my illegal downloading has decreased (to the point of zero).

Why does BPI hate capitalism?
posted by djgh at 3:13 AM on April 8, 2010


re "By the time this becomes law": it's expected to receive Royal Assent today. Then we will no longer be talking about the Digital Economy Bill, but the Digital Economy Act 2010.
posted by rory at 3:17 AM on April 8, 2010


re "By the time this becomes law": it's expected to receive Royal Assent today. Then we will no longer be talking about the Digital Economy Bill, but the Digital Economy Act 2010.

Isn't there a one-year grace period for some kind of nebulous non-binding consultation process agreed to as a compromise before the more draconian effects are felt?
posted by acb at 3:22 AM on April 8, 2010


The government's excuse for rushing this through before the election was that it had to tackle online copyright infringement right now, rather than in a month's time. Sure, some of the effects won't be felt immediately for practical reasons, but I wouldn't place any bets on being able to access the usual file-locker sites for long; the BPI surely has its legal letters all ready to post. As for WiFi, if you were running a small venue, why put your business at risk by leaving it running for a single day that this law is in force?
posted by rory at 3:42 AM on April 8, 2010


Perhaps they'll come to some regulatory compromise to allow file-locker sites to operate in the UK if they pass a compliance regime, i.e., by banning encrypted files, running audio/video fingerprinting on all uploads and allowing BPI officials to run spot checks.
posted by acb at 4:01 AM on April 8, 2010


And perhaps Tom Watson will become the next prime minister.
posted by rory at 4:21 AM on April 8, 2010


A handy list of who voted how.

My own MP, Sarah Teather (LibDem), did not turn up to the vote, but due to boundary changes she is standing against Dawn Butler (Lab), who (unsurprisingly) voted for. Presumably her calculation was that she didn't need to: anyone voting on this issue in the new Brent Central constituency has nowhere to go (and the bulk of the LibDems voted against, so she'll pick up some votes on that basis.)

Isn't politics fun.
posted by motty at 4:26 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for the BPI running spot checks on the contents of file-locker sites, surely they already can and do? That's what they're trying to get away from - too much hassle, and no sooner is one link taken down than another appears. Easier just to block the whole site. Of course, then it'll be a case of killing off all the new sites rather than new files.
posted by rory at 4:26 AM on April 8, 2010


The BPI are hamstrung by the court process, and can't preemptively search uploads. What would be more useful to them would be a back door, like the ones law-enforcement agencies have into webmail sites. Go to https://compliance.cyberlocker.com/, enter the password "bpiagent"/"asphead" and you can inspect any files on the site.

Of course, the costs of this would have to be borne by the ISPs, as it's unreasonable to expect the recording industry, bled dry by pirasites, to pay to defend itself.
posted by acb at 4:48 AM on April 8, 2010


My MP (Andy Slaughter (Labour)) was absent. Which, given the intensity of campaigning in my electorate (both parties have been carpet-bombing it with flyers and even the odd DVD), is not surprising.
posted by acb at 4:51 AM on April 8, 2010


Emailed my MP (Desmond Turner, Labour) a couple of weeks ago about this. His response:

Thank you for your e-mail. I will certainly take all of the points you raise into consideration when voting on the individual clauses and amendments of the Bill. I will certainly want to hear what Ministers have to say in response to the various points made in the campaign on this Bill, and know that it is of importance to many people working in the digital economy here in Brighton.

And he didn't even turn up to vote. So much for democracy. Hmm, guess I'll ask him why he wasn't there.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:56 AM on April 8, 2010


Not content creators, love. Middlemen, lawyers, accountants, lobbyists, executives and outright fucking liars. They perform a useful service in getting content to consumers, but mistaking their red faced shouting for the position of those who actually make the content is a mistake. You may as well think of this as the guards at the gates of the city being given a legal basis for refusing entry to anyone who doesn't bribe them on the way through.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:57 AM on April 8, 2010


For people not living in Britain, this will be interesting to watch. Is it the death of the open internet, or will encryption services, anonymizers, VPNs and the like be able to circumvent this? Of course, the loser is the average consumer, as usual in the world of DRM.
posted by mek at 5:32 AM on April 8, 2010


The BPI are hamstrung by the court process, and can't preemptively search uploads.

True enough about the court process, but surely they can search for them using the same tools available to anyone? They don't need special tools to see a lot of what's been uploaded; even Google does the job. I can see how some uploads might be obscurely named, encrypted, and only publicized on members-only boards, but if the general public can access those, so can the BPI; its employees are members of the general public too. No need to scour site directories by a backdoor, although that would certainly make their lives easier.

If all that's left are encrypted uploads known only to a handful of friends who tip each other off privately, then the BPI will presumably feel satisfied; we'd be back to the equivalent of getting a friend to tape an album for you, which is hardly the same as being able to find an mp3 or album for free in minutes. Then punters will turn to iTunes and Amazon and start spending that £400 million a year they've been keeping in their Swiss bank accounts well out of reach of the UK economy, and Lord Mandelson will get free yacht trips for life.
posted by rory at 5:47 AM on April 8, 2010


the US government could, by claiming copyright infringement on the embarrassing footage discussed here in recent days, get Wikileaks blocked in the UK.

then why hasn't wikileaks had a DMCA takedown notice in the US? or have they?
posted by rubber duck at 6:22 AM on April 8, 2010


Of course, the costs of this would have to be borne by the ISPs, as it's unreasonable to expect the recording industry, bled dry by pirasites, to pay to defend itself.

Sadly I don't think you are being ironic.

The pirasites (sic) spend more than the non pirasites (sic). It has very rarely (if ever) been a great business strategy to tell your biggest spending customers that their money is no longer welcome.

On revision, maybe this strategy will hasten the demise of the current ineffective business model within the recording industry (by refusing to work alongside its best customers and trying to lock them up or pass significent penalties onto them ie. no internet).

Hooray, who would have thought it. All this time I just thought they were vicious and stupid with a propensity for causing undue harm and sufferring to their customers, but in fact they have our best interests at heart.
posted by Boslowski at 6:46 AM on April 8, 2010


Of course, the costs of this would have to be borne by the ISPs, as it's unreasonable to expect the recording industry, bled dry by pirasites, to pay to defend itself.

....and if you were being ironic then please accept my apologies for a slightly snarky post
posted by Boslowski at 6:48 AM on April 8, 2010


And perhaps Tom Watson will become the next prime minister.

I certainly hope not.

No one remembers the smears?

As the government scrambled to limit the political damage, the cabinet office minister, Tom Watson, who was said to have been copied in on the emails, denied any involvement in the attempts at character assassination. Source
posted by djgh at 6:55 AM on April 8, 2010


If all that's left are encrypted uploads known only to a handful of friends who tip each other off privately, then the BPI will presumably feel satisfied

You'd think they would, but the words they put into the mouths of their bought politicians specifically complained about these "cyberlockers" where people can exchange copyright-infringing files between themselves with no fear of prosecution, and how something must be done about them.

The BPI have scented the delicious promise of Jammie Thomas-style punitive damages for any unauthorised filesharing, and they're not going to settle for anything less.
posted by acb at 7:21 AM on April 8, 2010


I certainly hope not. No one remembers the smears?

So anyone can be ruled out of contention simply by being cc'd into an email? You've never had an email from a friend or colleague that made you wince? Guilt by association is no justice. Part of what people object to in the Digital Economy Bill, in fact.

My comment on TW was, of course, a #debill-themed equivalent of "pigs might fly", but I'd take him over the current contenders any day.
posted by rory at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2010


acb, I'm sure you're right; I forgot for a moment to think myself into the appropriate mindset. As soon as the imagined 70% of £400 million p.a. fails to roll in, they'll be asking for stop-and-search powers for flash drives.
posted by rory at 7:46 AM on April 8, 2010


stop-and-search powers for flash drives.

Those are reportedly on the way in the ACTA treaty. They'll apply at international customs posts.
posted by acb at 8:54 AM on April 8, 2010


My sources on the ground told me that the ORG's offensive against the DEB irritated enough MPs that they supported more restrictive provisions than they normally would have, even provisions they don't expect to work in practice.

Meanwhile, a coalition of trade unionists lobbied more tactfully and succeeded in modifications to the bill.


I can see where you're coming from on this, charlie don't surf, but it doesn't really make much sense - outside of government ministers, who got pretty much what they were already proposing when the Bill was first introduced, elected MPs had no say whatsoever over the content of the Bill. That's largely the point. There were only three votes on it in total in the Commons - one a procedural one at second reading on Tuesday, then two more last night, all of which were the subject of a three-line whip by Labour and in which no non-Government amendments were passed.

MPs' hypothetical irritation with ORG's lobbying can't have shifted the Bill in a more radical direction, because - short of rebelling en masse against their party with an election a month away - backbench MPs had no chance to have any effect on the Bill at all.

And in any case, I think it's a bit unfair to suggest that ORG could have got a better result if they'd played it more softly-softly like the Trade Unions (who, in any case, predominantly supported the Bill). They simply don't have the access or influence over Labour that either the unions or corporate lobbyists have, and it's futile to pretend they could. In fact, until the point at which Mandelson decided to take over the Bill, ORG had actually made lot of headway - both the 2006 Gowers review of intellectual property and the 2009 Digital Britain report (upon which the Bill was supposed to be based) trod a much more balanced and reasonable line, in no small part thanks to the persuasive lobbying ORG and likeminded groups carried out.
posted by flashboy at 10:26 AM on April 8, 2010


Also:

No one remembers the smears?

djgh, you do know that Tom Watson had nothing to do with the smear campaign - he wasn't even copied into the emails? That was made up by Iain Dale, it it cost the Daily Mail substantial damages when they admitted it was entirely false. I'm not saying Watson's an unimpeachable guy - he's a hardcore party loyalist who'd never voted against the whip before last night, which makes him a supporter of plenty of unsavoury things - but you're repeating an outright lie there.
posted by flashboy at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2010


djgh, you do know that Tom Watson had nothing to do with the smear campaign - he wasn't even copied into the emails?

Apologies - my memory of it was that he was included, and escaped the chop. Obviously he was smeared re:smears, so I retract my previous. Cheers for putting me straight!
posted by djgh at 11:03 AM on April 8, 2010


Heh, it's understandable - retractions of stories somehow never quite get the publicity that the original stories do...

By the way, worth pointing out that Watson is also a Mefite. We should get him along to a meetup some time.
posted by flashboy at 12:16 AM on April 9, 2010


See this excellent overview of the Bill on out-law.com. Key points:

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson is widely believed to have been behind the insertion into the Bill of a provision to cut off the internet access to households where one user has been accused of copyright infringing behaviour.

The power for ministers to force internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect households or businesses has been controversial and digital rights groups have attacked the fact that it can be carried out without court oversight under the plans.


Also:

Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers introduced a clause allowing for the blocking of websites which were being used for mass copyright infringement when the law was debated in the House of Lords.

Though they retracted that amendment, the Government proposed a very similar one soon after which extends to the blocking of online locations that are 'likely to' be used for infringement.


The Bill was finally passed in the Lords at 4pm yesterday and is now law.
posted by motty at 5:02 AM on April 9, 2010


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posted by klausness at 5:17 PM on April 9, 2010


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