Yesterday the Digital Economy Bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Commons. It went through Committee Stage in a couple of hours as part of the end of term ‘Wash Up’, and will shortly (after a nod and a wink from the Lords) become law.
This bill is bad for Britain, bad for the internet, bad for music, bad for films, and bad for business. And here’s why.
The lobbyists and industry spokesmen who fought so hard during the Gowers review of Intellectual Property to get the government to introduce tougher sanctions against file-sharers did so because they wanted to protect/extend their existing business models: make film/album, burn it to a disc, market the shit out of it, sell it in shops. They didn’t do it because it would help artists or their audiences. They did it to protect their profits.
But what they know, and won’t admit, is that they can only protect this business model for a relatively short time. Soon, even with the support of a supine, spineless and incompetent parliament, they won’t be able to catch, identify or punish file-sharers (In fact, the whole terminology here makes me want to vomit. Do we prosecute book-sharers, or CD-sharers, or mix-tape makers? Do we demonise them?).
BPI estimates of lost revenue for album sales are ridiculous because they simply conflate the number of downloaded songs with ‘lost sales’. In fact, the overall picture is a complex one. Revenues from sales of physical records have declined, it’s true. But at the same time, sales of digital recordings and performance rights income have both increased. Labels receive a higher proportion of revenue from digital sales than traditional ones, and performance rights revenue increased 133% in America in 2008, according to the IFPI’s own figures.
But quite apart from the fact that you can’t make stupid comparisons between illegal downloads and lost revenue, there are much more important reasons why the measures in this bill, especially in the notorious Clause 18, which adopted the Gowers recommendations on ‘technical measures’ and what is euphemistically called a ‘graduated scale’ of punishments for filesharing or even for instances of ‘copyright violation’ verbatim, shouldn’t have been adopted.
Punishing people for sharing material in this way, even if you could reliably identify who did the sharing in the first place, is unreasonable, unethical, and counter-productive. It alienates potential audiences, prevents people from discovering new music or films that they like, pits them against the record labels, and encourages them to find more sophisticated ways of sharing material over VPN connections, encrypted servers, or, in extremis, simply by swapping hard drives.
But don’t just take my word for it. For a good summary of why this bill sucks, from a professional musician – http://bit.ly/czeXxa
This is not to say that I support wholesale piracy. Of course not. But just because stealing is unethical doesn’t make it right to levy £50,000 fines or to disconnect people from the internet, potentially damaging their rights to free expression, free association and their ability to communicate, work and learn.
Trying to protect business models that no longer work harms the economy and stifles innovation. What the government should be doing is precisely the opposite, and they should have the strategic vision, and the balls, to try to make Britain a home to the new media businesses that will thrive in the 21st century. We need to encourage the Spotifys, the Twitters, the Bittorrents, to emerge here. Not pull the plug on them. We urgently need a proper debate about the reform of intellectual property and licensing laws for digital/online content, before Britain disappears back into the stone age. Of course we won’t get it. But if enough people protest, and join the Open Rights Group – www.openrightsgroup.org, and 38 Degrees – 38degrees.org.uk we can still make a difference.
The manner in which this dreadful bill was devised, consulted on, introduced in parliament, debated, and voted on, highlighted at every stage the inadequacy, incompetence and venality of our legislative processes at their worst. The bare minimum of public consultation was carried out, and the recommendations of a small group of industry bodies were taken as gospel. The bill was hardly debated, despite large protests against it from furious artists groups, creative industries spokesmen and digital rights activists. It did not receive proper scrutiny and it was forced through as the result of a disgusting ‘sausage-making’ process in the last days of a corrupt legislature. A few MPs spoke against it, notably Tom Watson, who is to be congratulated, but otherwise this was a dark day for Parliament. It was clear throughout the ‘debate’ that few even knew what they were discussing, including the lamentable Stephen Timms, who spoke for the Government. And there were precious few members in the house who even bothered to turn up for the 3rd reading.
I personally feel guilty because I didn’t do enough, early enough, to protest. I should have written to my MP more often, joined in the protests outside parliament, and written about it earlier. Now we’re stuck with it, barring a miracle, and Britain is soon going to be a digital backwater. Well done, idiots. I hope you’re happy.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, earlier, the US Supreme Court also ruled against the Federal Communications Commission in its case against Comcast, striking a blow against net neutrality, and opening the door to a two-tier, or two-speed internet. More here (thanks, BoingBoing). Oy, oy, oy. Could it get any worse? If it weren’t for my eternal faith in the Web’s ability to mutate and slip out of reach of these tired, regressive fools, I would be depressed right now.