Britain’s Digital Economy Bill is a Dud

Lynne Kiesling

Britain’s legal institutions may be about to get even more Orwellian than they already are (which is pretty Orwellian, given their widespread use of government CCTV surveillance cameras and their penchant for euphemism). The Digital Economy Bill, introduced in the Queen’s speech to Parliament earlier this week, is downright craven and very likely to violate scores of economic and social liberties. As summarized at TechDirt:

[It] includes massive changes to copyright law, including the power of the government to effectively change the law at will with little to no oversight. Basically, it would let the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, change copyright law through secondary legislation, which requires no Parliamentary approval. As people are noting, Mandelson has had to resign from elected positions twice in the past in disgrace, and is now in an unelected position. And he’s the guy who gets to change copyright law at will? That does not seem right. On top of that, the bill doesn’t even specify “three” strikes for users. Instead, it requires ISPs to notify users with warnings — and to notify copyright holders that they did notify users — and if file sharing is not reduced by 70% in a year (with no indication of how this is measured), then the government will tell ISPs to start kicking people off the internet.

This CNet.uk article characterizes it as

… confirming tortuously complicated proposals to combat copyright infringement by to-ing and fro-ing between ISPs, rights holders, Ofcom and the courts. It also paved the way for business secretary Lord Mandelson to rewrite copyright law …

The bill sets out a proposal for the business secretary to amend the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act as he sees fit. Should Parliament okay this proposal, twice-sacked unelected official Mandelson will be able to rewrite the law through secondary legislation — which doesn’t need to be approved by Parliament. It’s nothing short of a political land grab, and we’d hope MPs see sense and if nothing else kick this part of the bill into touch.

This proposal sounds like a seriously disturbing contravention of the political representation that characterizes a democratic republic, and what makes it even more disgusting is that it’s so clearly special-interest motivated by the entrenched recording industry, which is hoping that such heavy-handed government intervention can save them having to actually innovate and think about how their business model should evolve. It also ignores all of the studies that show that activities like file sharing don’t actually decrease music purchases, so if the recording industry bothered to think more broadly, they might actually come up with a sustainable business model.

As Cory Doctorow observed at Boing Boing,

This is as bad as I’ve ever seen, folks. It’s a declaration of war by the entertainment industry and their captured regulators against the principles of free speech, privacy, freedom of assembly, the presumption of innocence, and competition.

This proposal creates the office of Pirate-Finder General, with unlimited power to appoint militias who are above the law, who can pry into every corner of your life, who can disconnect you from your family, job, education and government, who can fine you or put you in jail.

That’s why I’m so deeply disturbed by this proposed legislation, even though I don’t live in Britain. I worry that it’s a harbinger of how our elected so-called representatives and the political institutions grounded in coercion and prone to special interest lobbying will continue to erode our economic and social rights. This authoritarian attitude, the money behind harnessing that attitude to serve specific entrenched interests, and the likely outcomes of such legislation are well worthy of the Orwellian epithet.


One thought on “Britain’s Digital Economy Bill is a Dud

  1. Lynne:

    There has been in a trend over the past couple of decades of Parliament transferring legislative or quasi-legislative power to the government. My friend, the Liberal MP from Cambridge David Howarth, has written about this trend in a couple of recent op-eds: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/04/house-commons-government-executive, and http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article733022.ece

Comments are closed.