I was very lucky on Sunday to be witness to a great exercise in democracy. Lib Dem conference delegates, myself included, overwhelming supported an emergency motion clearly outlining their opposition to the Government’s draconian, authoritarian, Digital Economy Bill. In doing so, they effectively admonished the party’s leadership in the House of Lords, who had supported parts of the bill and introduced amendments that amounted to censorship of the internet. It also prompted MPs in the House of Commons to do what they could, in the limited time remaining in this parliament, to ensure that the ill judged bill does not pass into law.
Living 2 miles outside of Angus, I wrote to my MP, Peter Wishart, SNP. Given that the SNP have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Liberal Democrats on issues of authoritarianism and the environment, and have widely pilfered our policies, such as Local Income Tax, in other areas, I was completely shocked by the response, which is overwhelmingly in favour of the Digital Economy Bill. (See full text of response by clicking here)
I will let the leaders of the campaign against this bill explain in detail why the bill is such a deeply flawed piece of legislation and tackle Pete Wishart’s general arguments. Namely, Bridget Fox, the Open Rights Group and Lib Dems Save The Net Facebook Group.
I am no fan of illegal file sharing, and unlike many of my counterparts, support ISPs use of “traffic shaping” to ensure other users are not impacted.
But the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill are a draconian solution to the problem, lacking the necessary oversight and turning many of the principles of our legal system on their head.
As Mr Wishart says in his email:
The bill simply intends to tackle this, already illegal, activity by issuing notices to persistent offenders and ask them politely to stop. If, after several notifications, there is no improvement in behaviour, technical measures such as throttling band width, or temporary suspension of the internet may be considered as a last resort.
In other words, the burden of proof of illegal activity will shift to the accused, rather than the accuser, and receivers of these notifications will be treated as guilty until proven innocent.
I am absolutely certain that responsible businesses and administrators of shared accounts will want to do everything possible to ensure that illegal activity is not conducted from their internet accounts.
Except that doing so is pretty much technically infeasible, particularly for anyone running a hotspot or open access network at hotels, cafés, restaurants and airports.
One particularly bizarre argument in his email demonstrates the SNP’s complete lack of understanding of the underlying issues with the Digital Economy Bill:
It should also come as no surprise that large powerful internet service providers oppose these measures, as some of their business comes from the illegal sharing of music, films and TV programmes. They have been encouraged to engage in helping tackle on-line piracy, but other than positive contributions from companies like Sky and Virgin, none of the ISPs you mention have shown any interest in tackling this abuse and have actively campaigned against any measure that may see artists and creators properly rewarded.
This demonstrates that the SNP do not understand the issue at all. Not one single ISP makes a single penny from illegal file sharing. Surely that is the precise point of illegal file sharing, no-one makes any money from it!
Instead illegal file sharing soaks up precious bandwidth provided by ISP’s, hampering the performance of their other users. ISPs have responded to this by throttling the performance of heavy users during peak times. This demonstrates that there is little need for this bill to protect other users on shared internet connections.
Why then are ISPs opposed? Because the bill demands that become enforcement officers for a law that they know is technically flawed.
Illegal file sharing is a genuine issue and I have no sympathy for illegal file sharers. The solution is however to create an environment where artists are able to innovate business models that make best use of modern technology to get rewards from their work.
Companies like Sky and Virgin, along with the BPI support this bill, as major content rights holders, their interest is in their profitability, which is not necessarily what is best for their internet customers or for artists and content creators.
By aligning themselves so closely with the Digital Economy Bill, the SNP have failed to understand all the issues involved.
Please join me by writing to you MP to ensure a debate on the motion in the House of Commons, via 38 Degrees.