Liberal Democrat frontbench statement on the Digital Economy Bill

There’s been a lot of noise about the apparent lack of noise from LibDem MPs on the Digital Economy Bill (which in classic Labour style is about to be railroaded through the Commons).

Like many others, I’ve been lobbying away on this topic and am glad to have now received this statement from Don Foster and the Lib Dem Department of Culture, Media and Sport team (bold bits are my emphases):

————

The Digital Economy Bill is wide ranging and covers not just illegal file sharing and downloads from illegal websites, but issues such as a new remit for Channel 4, the classification of computer games, plans for switchover to digital radio and the future of regional news on ITV. We believe that these other parts of the Bill are extremely important and must be allowed to go into law.

We understand, however, that the proposals relating to website blocking and file sharing are controversial. Many people have expressed fears that the Bill will be rushed into law without proper examination.

We recognise the significant damage to the creative industries of downloading from illegal websites and initially sought measures to address this. However, there has been limited time for consultation and very little time before final decisions are made. We, therefore, do not believe that measures to address site blocking can reasonably be included in the Digital Economy Bill and we will not support any such measures.

There has been much longer and wider debate about actions to address illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. The Liberal Democrats are unconvinced of the merits of measures such as temporary account suspension or bandwidth throttling. This is why we have amended the Bill to ensure that they cannot be introduced without proper consultation and not until evidence has been produced to prove that they are the best available option. We also want to ensure that any measures will be subject to maximum scrutiny in parliament and that it will be possible to change them before a final decision is made.
The passing of the Bill will only be the start of a long process with many stages and many more opportunities for scrutiny. Indeed, the controversial parts of the Bill will need to be scrutinised and voted upon by the next parliament before they can be brought into law. Liberal Democrats MPs would not support these sections of the Bill without this process.

Already we have helped ensure significant changes to the Bill so that “technical measures” such as account suspension or bandwidth reduction will never be possible unless;
 
1. copyright infringers are notified by letter, without any risk of their internet connection being affected, for at least a year
2. an evaluation of the effectiveness of such “soft measures” is undertaken
3. an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been completed
4. further consultation has taken place
5. proposed legislation is brought before parliament for decision, and
6. any process to disconnect users explicitly assumes their innocence until they are proven guilty

We have also urged the music, film and videogames industries to work more urgently to develop easy and affordable ways to legally access their products in the hope that, combined with “soft measures” and an effective education campaign, disconnection is never required.

Liberal Democrats have agreed at their Spring Conference to establish a working party to address these issues. With at least a year before there will be any attempt to introduce “technical measures”, this will provide an opportunity for the party to consider the outcome of research into the effectiveness of the “soft measures” (letter writing).

However, despite the changes we have helped to achieve, we believe that there is still more to do in respect of the proposed system for tackling peer-to-peer file-sharing. We will take further action in the Commons to improve the legislation. For instance,

We believe there is inadequate protection in the Bill for schools, libraries, universities and other businesses offering internet access to the public.

When the Bill is passed, Ofcom will have to draw up a code regulating how the notifications system works. We do not think Ofcom will have enough time to draw up this code. If the public are to have confidence in the new system, Ofcom will need more than the six months it is given by the Bill.

We have already opposed – and helped defeat – government proposals to give itself powers to change copyright law almost at will. We will oppose any attempt to reinstate such powers in the Commons.

Our goal is to support the creative industries while at the same time fully acknowledging the issues of rights and freedoms for the individual that arise as internet technology advances.

There are some who believe that no action should be taken to address the problems caused by copyright infringements on the internet. While we accept that the initial proposals from the government and the much later proposals in respect of website blocking went too far, we do not believe that the problems can be ignored.

A report published on 17th March 2010 predicted that a quarter of a million jobs in the UK’s creative industries could be lost by 2015 if current trends in online piracy continue.

Commenting on it, Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “The results of the study stress that the growth of unauthorised file-sharing, downloading and streaming of copyrighted works and recorded performances is a major threat to the creative industries in terms of loss of employment and revenues. The scale of the problem is truly frightening now – let alone in the future if no firm actions against illegal file-sharing are taken.”

Our goal is to support the creative industries while at the same time fully acknowledging the issues of rights and freedoms for the individual that arise as internet technology advances. In other words action should only be taken if it is appropriate, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.
——————–

This won’t satisfy all the critics of the Digital Economy Bill, but at last we have the keenly-awaited clear assurance that Liberal Democrat MPs, as a party, will vote against web-blocking.

This is good news and continues to set us apart from the other main parties.

For more of my reaction, see my piece over on Liberal Democrat Voice.

23 Comments »

  1. […] had a response through from Don Foster MP and the DCMS team, the full text of which is on my blog here. Now it’s perhaps not the response as the Open Rights Group would have written it; but then […]

    • James Smith said

      The easiest way to avoid being done for someone hacking into your broadband and downloading copyrighted content? Don’t have broadband (or at least not Wifi)!

      Whilst the internet clauses are outrageous, I find it just as bad that Clause 31 wastes potentially £70m which could have been generated from the auction of radio licences.

      Even if you ignore the fact that the rest of the world has picked newer and better standards to DAB, allowing radio groups to merge stations is going to cost jobs not safeguard them, or isn’t radio a creative industry anymore?

  2. I give this 4 out of 10. And I’m being generous.

    Positives:
    1. It’s good that we’ve finally had a response.
    2. Thankfully, the party will at least fight for some strict limits on the ability of the authorities to choke Internet connections.

    Negatives:
    1. That “quarter of a million jobs i nthe UK’s creative industries” figure uses some ridiculous calculations. It assumed that the growth in Internet traffic will directly correlate to more piracy, which would directly correlate to lost revenue and to job losses. I’m embarrassed we’re taking the entertainment industry’s spin as gospel.
    2. We’re going to allow the digital radio switch-over to be waived through? This has some serious implications. DAB isn’t like Freeview; you can’t simply buy a set-top box that converts your existing setup. We’ll all need new radios for our cars and our homes. Many of us have FM tuners built in to our mobile phones (my last three handsets all have), but only 1 obscure handset is currently DAB compatible.
    3. The statement says nothing of whether Ofcom should be given such wide-ranging powers over Internet content. The extent of their regulatory powers must be debated, and a firm cut-off point established. The current phrase “editorially controlled” is incredibly vague.
    4. There’s also no comment on Clause 19, which gives the government new powers over the provision of domain names, where intervention can be sought when deems the use of a domain name to be “unfair”. Once again, debate is required around this issue.
    5. We of course want legislation that “assumes their innocence until they are proven guilty”, but no detail has been provided on the mechanism that will prove guilt. I sincerely hope we’re talking about formal court proceedings here. Restricting the supply of Internet is a restriction of liberty, and the same protections in place that have been built up since Magna Carta are retained.

    I don’t expect that any of these points will be addressed until April 6th. But I do expect the Lib Dems to raise all of these issues during second reading.

    • Exactly Duncan, point 3 and 4 IN SPADES.

      The Lib Dem’s are clearly following the media (and with it ORG’s) narrative on this which shows why the WHOLE bill needs proper debate.

      The Digital Economy Bill, as it stands, allows OFCOM to regulate the internet, and for the government to take ownership of domain names under the guise of “fairness”. In debate this fairness corresponds to things as audacious as domain names that are “like” other more well known names.

      I’ve said it elsewhere, but OFCOM being given regulatory power over any editorially controlled content online, and the government being able to do the online equivalent of turfing someone out of their property because they had the audacity to buy where it is popular before it cost a lot of money, are both TERRIBLE things.

      We can’t let them just go through without scrutiny because there is immense focus on the main parts of the bill in clauses 4-18.

      If anything I would say that the lack of detail and clarity over the domain, regulation (and to a lesser extent orphan works of clause 43) are the real dangers of this bill masked by a part of the bill that, while absolutely reprehensible has at least been given some scrutiny through that public pressure.

      And don’t even get me started on the loosely worded changes on computer game regulation that potentially, though unlikely, leaves the door open (in conjunction with OFCOM’s regulatory power increases) for fines on free online casual game sites that carry unregulated games suitable for only for 12+

      There are only two things in this whole bill that are free from controversy as far as I can see. 1) The changes to expectations placed upon Channel 4 and channel 3 news and 2) Giving the regulatory power of games officially over to PEGI.

      Anything else needs proper scrutiny, there is so much more to this bill than the headline controversy, it’d be nice if (despite the election looming) the Lib Dem’s could look at the whole picture.

  3. Subscribing.

  4. Jock said

    What would be nice would be a breakdown of the pieces that Don says “are extremely important and must be allowed to go into law” identifying in just whose benefit they are introduced. There is no need for any “positive law” to be passed this month as opposed to several months down the line. I’d have no doubt that any bits that are of the sort that are protectionist privilege for businesses will be as much in the Tories’ interests as they are in Labour’s and so would come back fairly quickly whoever wins in May.

    Clearly if April 6th is likely to be the day Brown goes to seek a dissolution of parliament and is the day on which such an important piece of legislation gets its only Commons scrutiny, that scrutiny will be guillotined severely and I see little time available for debate on individual clauses leading to meaningful opportunities to persuade other parties’ members to vote to exclude them.

    They’re likely to end up with a list of amendments and divisions (if they’re that lucky – maybe one division on a whole raft of amendments) with little debate – we must be prepared if we have not persuaded others to vote against any clauses we want to see out to try and drum up support to deny the bill a second reading entirely – I presume the “wash-up” cannot really consider a bill that has actually been voted down on its only trip to the elected house?

    I ought to read the recent report from the “creative industries”. I assume it is mostly a report from the “uncreative middlemen” rather than from original artists?

    The point that some of us were trying to make about copyright in particular and why the whole concept needs looking at is that many are convinced that, absent copyright in its current form at least, original artists would actually gain significantly, albeit perhaps at the expense of the media giant middlemen, but that from both an ethical “natural law” type standpoint, and from a “cultural enrichment” standpoint, the fewer the number of Time-Warners and Simon Cowells and the greater the number of original creators able to make a living on their own the better for our culture.

  5. Dad said

    Re:
    “1. copyright infringers are notified by letter, without any risk of their internet connection being affected, for at least a year”
    “6. any process to disconnect users explicitly assumes their innocence until they are proven guilty”

    This is not true –

    Clause 4 provides that every letter, from day one, even under the so called “educational stage”, which is at least 12 months, is taken into account as soon as technical measures are imposed under Clause 11.
    There is absolutely no “explicit assumption of innocence” in the bill – can you please ask Don Foster where in the bill the assumption of innocence is “explicit”?!

    The fact that one has to appeal means that there is no assumption of innocence, in fact you have to prove that the evidence advanced against you by a highly paid legal team is wrong. The explicit presumption of innocence would be to ensure that only a court can impose technical measures, after the defendant was found guilty of copyright infringement, which in civil cases is on the “balance of probability” and in criminal cases on the basis of “beyond reasonable doubt”.

    “In relation to Clause 4, 124A (8)(d), the Government has clarified that any ‘copyright infringement report’ made against subscribers can be used as the basis of imposing a technical sanction against them. This means that subscribers have to appeal from day one against any notifications they receive, if they want to avoid being subject to technical measures. But when appealing to the administrative body set up by Ofcom, and subsequently a First Tier Tribunal, subscribers will have no right to legal aid. Given the highly complicated and technical nature of the evidence advanced against them, as well as the difficulty in proving WiFi hijacking or unauthorised access by a third party, it will almost certainly be necessary that consumers take advice before appealing.”
    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/03/26/consumer-rights-brie.html

    Re:
    “5. proposed legislation is brought before parliament for decision”

    Yes, but as secondary legislation, which the parliament can not amend, only reject and approve. Any government with a majority can pass any secondary legislation they like. In fact, his has been Labour’s approach to dealing with controversial issues. Get “enabling legislation” like clause 4 to 17 of the DE Bill are suppose to be, onto the statutes book, and then just speed secondary legislation through both houses.

    Given that the Lib Dems can not hope to form a majority government, they should be far more concerned about the fact that hugely controversial measures will be introduced through secondary legislation.

  6. corris said

    Much Too Little and Way Too Late ….. or how my Father died on active service for this country believing in a Democracy “Of the People & For the People”.
    How his spirit must be stirring and spitting in rage and anguish in a European cemetry …. God Rest him and all those who feel in vain in the 20th Century only to be so betrayed from within.

  7. Ian Homer said

    Despite conversations by so many in the photographic industry, of which I am part I am dismayed that there is absolutely no mention of the disastrous consequences of Clause 43.

    This clause will affect not just my industry but also the moral and privacy rights of any individual who is participatory in making a photograph.

    Furthermore the clause contravenes both Berne and TRIPS international agreements on intellectual property and will also give rise to situations where even large commercial organisation will be left legally exposed if they obtain a licence from a new orphan works agency.

    As an industry we have suggested extending fair use to allow our cultural and educational institutions the necessary latitude to make use, in a non commercial way, those works gathering dust for whom a rights holder will never be traced. This would need very careful framing of course but would negate the need for the kind of measures and indeed pitfalls of what is proposed in Clause 43.

    This is groundbreaking and important legislation, so important it should not be rushed ahead with. Certainly not at the last 10 seconds of the 59th minute of the 11th hour. And not as a shell of a bill for which too many provisions will be decided on without full parliamentary scrutiny by an as yet unknown new Secretary of State.

  8. Dean said

    It was the Lib-Dems (the noble Lords Razzall and Clement Jones) that came up with the internet censorship clause, not Labour. I took some pictures of my new nephew a few weeks ago and sent them throuh to my sister on yousendit. In your bright new future I won’t be allowed to do this.

    You used to position yourself against the Labour attacks on civil liberties, but now we see your true colours. No vote for you I’m afraid….

    • Dean

      Had you paid more attention you would know that almost as many Lib Dem peers spoke against the web blocking amendment, and that the alternative was Mandelson having the ability to change copyright without scrutiny. Wrong thing for the right reason.

      The lib dems have shown their true colours with massive internal and external campaign resulting in an unanimously supported motion at conference weeks ago condemning and now this change of direction from the Front Bench.

      The membership has told, cajoled and lobbied the PLDP succesfully and it looks like Lord Clement Jones (who now presumably backs this statement) has changed his position.

      So now that the party has (belatedly) positioned itself against labour and tory attacks on internet and freedom quite clearly in words and deeds they have lost your vote? You must be very confused

  9. yes, i agree with you.

  10. Richard E said

    Yes, there must be concerted and properly-thought-out legislation regarding file sharing. However the way to arrive at it is to start with proper research and NOT simply to rely on industry hearsay like “a quarter of a million jobs in the UK’s creative industries could be lost by 2015 if current trends in online piracy continue.” There is no real basis for numbers like this – they’re like the meaningless suggestions that “X million is lost as a result of piracy every year”. They are imaginary and even if there is a grain of truth behind them, they are not the result of unbiased research: they come from an industry with a very large axe to grind, and whose approach is “How do we stop people doing this?” rather than “How do we make money giving our customers what they want?”.

    Each end of this whole approach is dubious. At one end, assessment of the “problem”, if that’s what it is, must be based on unbiased, objective research, and not on record industry press releases. Bear in mind that even industry research going back to the early 1980s shows that the people who share music are the people who buy music.

    At the other, there is every likelihood that proposed measures will penalise legitimate users of a wide range of services while the real “offenders” will have the technical nouse to avoid the restrictions.

    We have to start from a different place. Personally, I would favour examining the practicality of a simple blanket licence fee, levied on all internet users (thus making it tiny for an individual user) that would enable people to do what they want to do with downloaded media. At a stroke, that would sweep away a huge amount of money-wasting, service-degrading and anti-privacy measures. But that’s just one suggestion.

    As far as the Bill’s other provisions are concerned, Clause 43 is also important and needs to be rewritten.

    • Glass Eye said

      The utopian idea of a Internet Licence fee is great, except it confuses the music, film and publishing industries with copyright holders and creators. In all this mess, it’s the individual creators (and I speak as a commercial photographer) whose voices get drowned out by those who think everything on the internet should be accessible and useable for free. Even for commercial exploitation.

      I don’t condone the internet blocking and bandwidth throttling proposals, but I wish people would remember that Getty never took a photo, Sony never wrote a song. It’s the individual creators who will suffer if the orphan works clause is left untouched in the wash-up.

  11. […] the need to support the Creative Industries.  It is worth reading over at Bridget Fox’s blog. addthis_url = […]

  12. cyberdoyle said

    This seems to be very sensibly written until you start to think about it all, and it is further proof (if any were needed) that the politicians en masse still don’t get IT. they are still falling for spin, and then spinning out their own. The bill is severely flawed and should be dumped. It will be easier to write a new one from lessons learned than to put this one right.

  13. […] Liberal Democrat policy set out on the blog of Bridget Fox, a prospective parliamentary candidate on the Digital Economy […]

  14. Phil said

    “This won’t satisfy all the critics of the Digital Economy Bill”

    Of course it won’t, this is an incredibly controversial bill, and not one of the three main parties will speak for us.

    Thank you for your work lobbying on this, it’s just a shame the response you got was so disappointing, I hope this won’t be the end of the issue for you.

  15. […] Democrat parliamentary politician Bride Fox publicised a letter from Don Foster, Liberal Democrat dominate helper of land for culture, media and sport, on her […]

  16. Charles Stirling said

    Their is general agreement that significant damage to the creative industries in the UK would be undesirable, but this should include more than the music and film industries. The clause 43 has various provisions to allow the use of material dreamed orphaned, material where the original author is not know, to be used. This is both for educational and museum use but also commercial use including the resale of the Orphan. This will affect both photographers and writers and maybe also musicians and film makers – anyone actually creating the original work.

    The clause 43 is written in a way which will give benefits to large publishers with “safeguards” that are completely inadequate to protect the small original creators. “Diligent” searches to find the author do not specified how this can be accomplished and currently simply can not be done for photographs. No provisions are in place to deter intentional orphaning of works.

    If a work is orphaned even though its author is alive and well the bill allows commercial exploitation of it. This might break legal contracts already in existence either assigning exclusive usage to someone else or in a photograph to a model who had prohibited particular uses. The rights of the author to control how their work is used is taken away, they may not want certain political or religious uses for instance but now would have only very difficult control if a work was orphaned. No provision in the bill exists to remove a work from orphan status if its author is found.

    The whole of the Digital Economy Bill has controversial clauses in it, but clause 43 can certainly damage 10s of thousands of people. It needs to be stopped. Hopefully the LibDems will do all they can to remove this clause for the “wash-up”. Think if it was your family photo put on Facebook, orphaned and used to illustrate the happy family supporting the BNP.

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  18. George said

    I actualy did not even now, that there was an Digital economy Bill, until now. It realy looks like this is a sensitive topic that you realy should know about. Thank you fore educating me on this one

  19. Bernhard said

    It’s actually a nice and helpful piece of information. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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