Thursday, 6 May 2010

MPs: Will you oppose the use of disconnection and web blocking powers?

I recently contact the MPs in my local constituency regarding their intentions to repeal the Digital Economy Act's rather punitive web blocking powers.  For me, the attitude the parties display towards the future of the UK's digital sector is the election issue.  Here's the letter I sent:

The Digital Economy Act was rammed through Parliament as the election was
called. Over 20,000 people contacted their MP to complain, adverts were paid
for by donations, and thousands of people watched the debate live from

I was appalled by this process. It seemed to me undemocratic and dangerous.
Now, new powers have been granted without really understanding the

I do not think that disconnection - for whatever length of time - should be
used as a punishment for allegations of civil copyright infringements. There
is no justification for interfering in someone's ability to communicate
because of a civil dispute. Such disputes require financial recompense, not
wide ranging arbitrary punishments. It is also wrong to put forward
punishments that will be inflicted on everyone in a household, not just the
allegedly guilty person.

The decision on these powers will be made through a "super affirmative"
process. If elected, you would have to decide whether to approve these
powers. Would you oppose the use of disconnection or other interference in
people's communications?

I am also against new website blocking powers that may be introduced after
the election. Powers already exist for copyright holders to do this through
court orders, but they have so far refused to use this course of action to
solve their problems. Why should new powers be introduced?

This will affect my choice of candidate. This is a matter of principle for
me. Either my candidates are willing to stand up for principles I believe
in, or they are not. Please let me know if you will stand up against this
Act if you are elected.

I would also be very reassured to hear that you would as my MP try to attend
Eric Joyce's parliamentary meeting on this topic, which he intends to
organise if elected.
I received responses from 2 of the 5 prospective candidates (Conservative and the Liberal Democrats).  As usual, David Miliband (Labour) has not acknowledged the concerns of his constituent.  YOu can find the responses below.  The first to reply was Karen Allen (Conservative):

Thank you for getting in touch about the Digital Economy Act. I certainly share your anger
about how the Government rushed through such an important piece of legislation
in the dying days of the last Parliament. There was absolutely no reason why
they couldn’t have introduced the Bill earlier into the House of Commons, where
MPs would then have been able to debate it at length. It just shows the
contempt in which they hold both Parliament and the industries affected by this

As you know my Party did support many of the measures in this Act. For instance a single age 
rating system for video games was needed to help parents understand what sort
of games are appropriate for their children, and Channel 4 needed an updated
remit. Most significantly, something needed to be done to try to reduce online
piracy which was estimated to have cost the UK 39,000 jobs in 2008 alone. 

We believe that the Act sets up a proportionate and measured response to this problem and that
it contains sufficient safeguards through an appeals process and Parliamentary
scrutiny for consumers to be protected. It is important to note that only the
most serious and consistent offenders will face the threat of disconnection and
this will only be done after they have received numerous letters and gone
through an appeals process. So although I understand the strength of feeling on
this proposal I do not want to rule out temporary disconnection. I will listen
to the debates in Parliament and closely follow the drawing up of the codes
that will govern this process to make sure that the interests of legitimate
users are upheld. 

In terms of website blocking I believe that in some circumstances such measures may well be
needed. It cannot be right that websites are set up purely to make money by
facilitating online piracy. Again though, these proposals will be consulted on
and debated in Parliament so I look forward to taking part in that process. 

Although I understand that we may not agree on this issue I am very happy to consider all
aspects of this important debate. As such I would be more than happy to attend
any meeting on this subject should I be elected on 6th May. 
I'm not sure quite where the statistics for the 39,000 UK jobs lost specifically to piracy are from.  I think they are taken from the 'Building a Digital Economy: The Importance of Saving Jobs in the EU's Creative Industries' published by the International Chamber of Commerce.  This report has been criticised for a number of methodological problems around number counting (see Torrentfreak link).  I've even blogged about this report here. I'll quote one critique here just for effect:
It gets even more ridiculous when we take a closer look at the claims. In the UK consumers spent €6.3bn on audiovisual products in 2008. If the projected trends continued, the ‘lost’ revenue because of piracy would exceed the actual revenue, meaning that the music and movie industries would end up having to pay people for pirating their products.
You can find the somewhat vague response from my Liberal Democrat candidate here:

Thank you for contacting me about the Digital Economy Bill.

The Digital Economy Bill has now passed into law.  We have been highly
critical about the so called "wash-up" process which has enabled this Bill
to pass with limited Parliamentary scrutiny before the General Election.
The "wash-up" of the Digital Economy Bill was essentially a carve up between
the Labour and Conservative parties that ignored Liberal Democrat arguments
to consult more widely before introducing a measure to introduce
web-blocking for copyright infringement.  Liberal Democrats voted against
the Bill at 3rd Reading in the House of Commons and against the Labour and
Conservatives web-blocking amendment in both the Lords and the Commons.

Liberal Democrats remain to be convinced about the necessity for technical
measures, which could include disconnection from the internet.  Liberal
Democrats were successful in getting the Government to agree to a period of
at least a year in which no technical measures can be considered and then to
undertake a process of rigorous analysis and consultation into the need for
any such measures. We also believe that the music, film and other content
industries must work more urgently to develop easy and affordable ways for
people to legally access their products. 

The recent Liberal Democrat conference in March voted to establish a party
working group to look into further detail about the issues raised by the

Thanks again for taking the time to contact me.

Like I said, vague, but at least they responded...

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