8 April 2010

The Digital Economy Bill Rushed Through Parliament

I was hugely tempted to write a very detailed blog entry today in protest about the Digital Economy Bill in Britain, but to be frank, words fail even me on this occasion. The legislation is utterly shot through with holes, and appears to have been voted through by a bunch of career politicians who have little (if any) understanding about the technology involved, nor the industry involved. In fact, plenty actually stood up in Parliament and practically admitted this was the case. This particular farcical exchange seems to effectively sum the proceedings up:

Jeremy Corbyn: I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, but does he not think there is a danger that the Bill will criminalise large numbers of imaginative young people and education establishments who frequently share material on the internet and use the medium as a form of creative expression? Are we going to kill all that off and cut people off as a result of this Bill?

Mr. [Sion] Simon: No, it does not criminalise anybody; all it does is simply seek to enforce the existing law. We should, however, be very careful that the Bill does not have the unintended consequence of bringing about the end of public wi-fi. I was assured by the experts in the various Departments involved in this legislation that there were clearly existing technical measures that made it perfectly possible to run public wi-fi with these measures.

Jeremy Corbyn: How?

Mr. Simon: Obviously, I do not claim to know what the technical measures are, but when I am told that they exist, I take it in good faith that they do exist, and unless my hon. Friend can prove to me that they do not exist-

As one observer has already commented, when politicians in the Houses of Parliament start asking each other to prove that the technology doesn't exist, we've found ourselves in the middle of a very messy, Kafkaesque hole.

The Digital Economy Bill won't work in the long run, of course. There are too many people who will manage to worm their way around it. As soon as it goes through the usual rubber-stamping procedures, however, it will mean the potential end in Britain - albeit possibly only temporarily - of a lot of what makes the Internet great. Mp3 blogs like this one could be among the first victims. The fate of thousands of YouTube clips uploaded by people with dusty VHS collections (which plenty of uninformed members of the public seem to think are somehow legitimate, and not in any way illicit) isn't particularly clear to me, but if the culling of clips doesn't get more draconian, I'd be amazed.

The majority of mainstream politicians have always failed to understand the arts, the music industry, youth culture and technology, and this is just one in a long historical line of errors on any of those subjects. However, this is likely to impact on many more people than even the closure of the pirate stations did in the late sixties.

Louis Barfe - author of the exhaustive "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" book about the rise and fall of the music industry - has published a blog post here which kindly lists the names of MPs who voted the bill through. If your local MP is listed, perhaps consider dropping them a line to make them aware of your views on this, or remember their names in the forthcoming election.

Meanwhile, "Left and to the Back" will continue for as long as it is able to.


Cocktails said...

Hmmmm... I don't know what to say either. It is yet another example of politicans missing the point and trying to sweep bills through when they think no one is looking (and sadly many of us weren't).

At least Neil's not on the 'yes' list.

23 Daves said...

Neil usually isn't where these things are concerned, although he's retiring before the election anyway.

Anyway, Rhodri Marsden (technical columnist for the Independent, so he should know about 'these things') checks in with a more balanced take here: http://rhodri.biz/omg-theyre-taking-our-internets/

Mr Chalk said...

I'm astounded as well. It's a huge mess. I only hope a potentially hung parliament and a coalition with the Lib Dems can do something about it.