It was known as the Digital Economy Bill in the real world, #debill (now known as #deact!) on Twitter but from the 8th April 2010 bill became Act.
If there were ever an example of parliament not listening then watching the progress of the Digital Economy Bill pass through the House of Lords, House of Commons, to then be granted Royal Assent has to be the pinnacle. The Bill has received much attention from industry experts but was never granted a debate despite the pleas of lobbyists and opposing MPs (ie. The intelligent Ones).
For the hardcore readers among you the full details of the Act can be found here. The Digital Economy Act is aimed to continue upgrading Britain so that we may remain a country focused on digital industry.
The only problem with this, at first, brilliant tribute to securing Britain’s digital age is that the Bill was constructed by out-of-date sage’s and probably money pilfering entertainment bosses. It might be that because the Bill is so up-to-date that it was eagerly nodded through parliament by the people who can only smirk at the digital age before confessing, “I am too old to learn about that”. Don’t think that our political system is full of bright, reasonably, charming people – in many cases we are discussing the very idiots who used to sit next to us in school.
The Bill has two key areas of concern; the ability for OFCOM to get involved online and piracy strategies. Of course the Bill covers many areas such as the future of radio, broadband penetration and the role of Channel 4. As reported by the BBC, “The government says it wants to protect the UK’s creative industries, which it says is under threat from piracy.” It strikes me that the Act will proceed as a double edged sword, both protecting and harming the creative industry.
It is perilously simple to write clauses, a certain strategy of rules which the Act seems to be, but far more complicated to actually carry out procedure. Under the Digital Economy Act copyright holders will be able to complain to ISPs to report illegal file sharing of a user. Such allegations require evidence and such evidence can only mean following the footsteps of a user’s IP. IP stands for Internet Protocol, not Intellectual Property! IP addresses change (although changes are easily tracked) but cannot act as solid evidence. If somebody were to access my wireless router to download copyrighted material illegally then my IP address would show up. Thus insinuating that I should be to blame for the illegal downloading. However, I wasn’t torrenting but the ISP would still label me as a pirate, a hater of the creative industry and I would be charged accordingly.
Such piracy measures are unnecessarily heavy handed and will not protect the industry but instead harm it. It is wrong to label those who ‘illegally’ download as criminals. Stealing a handbag is not the same as downloading copyrighted material. There is ethically a vast difference which supporters of the Digital Economy Act must be blind to understand. In many ways downloading copyrighted material is done by those who love film and music. Perhaps students who don’t yet have enough money to purchase but as they get older, earn money, will built up a huge music or film collection completely paid for. Furthermore, if ‘illegally’ downloading content widens a customer base then technically should cause more sales in the long run. In many ways torrenting could be a great (but uncertain) marketing activity. Extremely counter intuitive in the short term but certainly something that deserves a little bit of research.
We are fortunate that although this Act could potentially leave its mark on the way the United Kingdom use the internet, it will take at least 2 years for anything to happen. Within the Digital Economy Act it has been said that although ISPs will need to mediate between OFCOM and the internet user, that OFCOM will need to write its own industry code for consumers.
In the mean time the internet’s landscape will continue to change. The websites that are popular today will not be the same in 2 years time and new websites shall emerge. This, without a doubt, will leave a written Act looking dated.
The best thing about the Digital Economy Bill is a website that informs you of the vote of your local MPs. Turns out that my local MP (although technically during the dissolution of parliament there are no MPs) in Cheltenham, Martin Horwood, didn’t bother voting for the Bill whilst my local MP in Surrey, Paul Burstow, opposed it. Martin, having not bothered voting, has given me even more of a reason to vote for Mark Coote on the 6th May.
The Digital Economy Act could be a real threat to the development of the internet. Pushed through parliament by wealthy creative industries without debate. I do not believe the measures within the Act can be fortified in reality. The Act deserves a debate and it is certainly worthwhile for everybody to call for a #deact.