The DEBill – Flirting with the Devil

While this political story may be old news now, I wrote about this  issue to educate students about  the last act Labour rushed through parliament before the election. This was printed in the April issue of the Verse.

The DEBill – Flirting with the Devil

Draconian internet laws have been rushed through parliament.

The Internet is about to change forever. No longer will we have a fountain of knowledge and creative freedom at the ends of our fibre-optic fingertips. On 8th April, a new law was passed, allowing the government more control over what we read and do on the Internet. The bill that was passed was called the Digital Economy bill. While it may not come into effect until next year, and the next Government may drop some clauses, it will affect the way that we all interact with each other digitally.

The intention of the bill, proposed by Lord Peter Mandelson, was to regulate and control the country’s booming creative industry. However, many at the heart of such industries, particularly here in Brighton, met the bill with grave concern. The bill included sections about digital radio, Channel 4 as a public service, Broadband tax and illegal file-sharing. The Open Rights Group mounted a campaign encouraging people to write to their local MP, and over 20,000 letters were received. Many were concerned about the speed of which the bill was being passed through the government’s wash-up as the general election was called; it was debated for less than five hours by less than 30 MPs (out of a total 647) when a bill like this would normally receive over 80 hours of scrutiny in the Commons.

The most controversial are clauses 10-18, declaring that if anyone is even suspected of illegal file sharing their Internet is at risk of being completely cut off (although they will receive a warning letter first). The government is calling on ISPs to report on their users; if they fail to do so, they could face a fine of up to £250,000. It will be the responsibility of the owner of the internet connection to ensure that all who use it do so legally, be it the parents of a household of internet savvy children, or a public establishment such as universities or libraries. One area of concern while the bill was being discussed in the Commons was how universities would be able to monitor and control how students use the internet connection in halls of residence; should all students on the same connection suffer due to the acts of one individual? It became abundantly clear during discussions that MPs knowledge on digital media is severely lacking, particularly after a leaked document surfaced where the Digital minister and bill author Stephen Timms referred to IP as intellectual property, not its correct meaning of Internet Protocol.

The bill also proposed that the Government would have more power to shut down websites that it believes are infringing on copyright laws. One of the first websites believed to be shut down could be Wikileaks, who publish leaked official documents, thus reporting government and corporate misconduct. While one of the clauses proposing high court injunctions to shut down sites such as these was eventually withdrawn, the government has made it clear that they will accomplish this task by any other parliamentary means. The whole debate of shutting down websites and Internet connections in an increasingly digital age not only limits freedom of speech, but slows technological progress. This is concerning for an industry which is blossoming and carrying the country out of a recession.

However, there is a silver lining in this cloud, which came in the shape of clause 43 detailing what to do about orphan photographic works. The government suggested that if someone wants to use a photograph but could not find its author to obtain permission; they could pay a fee to the government and then be able to use the work in any way they wanted. This clause put at risk the livelihood of photographers across the country, as many could strip the photograph of its metadata and claim ignorance. This was something that both the Labour and the Conservative governments did quite brazenly in their vicious advertising campaigns. Both parties appropriated the image of Philip Glenister from the BBC series Ashes to Ashes. Permission to use the image was never asked, despite the authoring information being very obviously available. Thankfully, this clause was dropped.

Some call the bill a violation of human rights. Some say it is purely the voice of the music industry. Regardless of what people say, it is going to happen, so get internet-wise.

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