I attended the DEAct workshop at the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon. Held in the Jubilee room off the Great Hall of Westminster, this put together once more rights holders and everyone else in a session that had been organised by Eric Joyce MP in order to be able to put together a summary of the two positions for MPs to take away with them over the holidays.
There is an immediately an observation here in saying “rights holders and everyone else”. It is more than just the ISP community that is objecting to the Digital Economy Act. Consumer and human rights groups are also also in opposition to the Act.
In a sense this meeting was just a rehash of all that has been said before. It was held, however, because with the ongoing Judicial Review and the Parliamentary inquiry (that should have been held before the Act was passed) do present real opportunities to make changes.
The two positions can be summarised quite easily:
- Rights Holders are appealing for fairness in that unlawful copyright infringement is taking away revenues and is effectivley stealing – they equate copying a file to taking a CD from a store without paying. Whilst there are philosophical arguments around this most people agree with them and sympathise.
- RHs see the implementation of the (delayed and as yet unpublished) Ofcom Code of Practice as a means to give the population a wake up call – a jolt to remind them that it is “wrong to steal” and point them in the direction of legal means of acquiring the copyrighted material.
Those opposed to the Act say:
- The process defined in the Act is fundamentally flawed in that it assumes that the broadband account holder is responsible for the copyright infringement – something that would be very difficult to get past a court of law
- Those accused of infringing are being asked to prove their innocence which goes against all our democratic principles of fair play – the Code also does not allow for an appeal until too far into the process and then not before a judge
There are many other issues such as who pays and the practicalities of disconnection and website filtering as technical measures but in a sense these are almost side plays to the fairness and human rights aspects.
The reality here is that someone is going to be hurt whatever happens and the judgement that must be made relates to the fairness of who gets hurt. Is it fair to open up Mrs Abercrombie next door to the possibilites of fundamental injustices versus is it fair to let the rights holders industries suffer and decline.
The fact is that Mrs Abercrombie will get hurt. There is also a very real scenario where the country will go to all the efforts prescribed by the Digital Economy Act and also incur the huge costs with a result that will have zero impact on levels of online copyright infringement. This Act is all about stick and no carrot.
What is certainly clear is that with the evolution of the internet and the world wibe web the world society is going through a huge change. Much of this is for the better but as in all situations of change it is not to everyone’s liking. When Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny it put many home weavers out of business but did not kill off the weaving industry. It just changed it. Like my analogy or not this is where the creative industries are at now. The biggest problem for them I fear is that it is not obvious how their business model is going to evolve.
In carrying out their inquiry into the DEAct the government should not only recognise this but also that sticks don’t work and they should concentrate more on the carrots.
PS as a postscript I am given to believe that the issue of public intermediaries (ie libraries, universities etc) caught under the act is going to be treated sympathetically. It would be very bad press for this not to be the case at a time of cost cutting. It unfortunately potentially also open up big holes in the effectiveness of the Act. We can only wait and see here.