Well, it’s happened – our quaint analogue Britain, full of steam trains and paper books and casette tapes, has made the switchover. We are now, and forever, a Digital Britain.
The Digital Economy Bill has been floating around for some time now, but really gained momentum when Business Secretary and Demon Headmaster lookalike Lord Peter Mandelson got involved, fresh from a totally unrelated trip with, and courtesy of, music industry tycoon David Geffen. However, after much controversy, the Bill has been developed and passed, at a much faster pace than most bills of this nature are, following closely on the heels of Gordon Brown’s announcement of a May 6th election. The dissolution of parliament that precedes a general election, which began on Monday 12th April, means that, unless they did it now, there wouldn’t be a chance to pass the bill until after the election, by which time there could be a new government which may look less kindly on a mostly Labour-backed proposal. This was, quite literally, Labour’s last chance to fuck things up before their, I feel, inevitable defeat at the polls next month, considering that it remains to be seen if the new
conservative undetermined ruling party will bother to remove the freshly passed bill when, I’ll freely admit, they have more important things to fix after a turbulent 13 year shit storm run under Labour. To illustrate just how rushed and disorganised this bill was, the debate that preceded the passing of the bill was attended by a meagre 5% of MPs – good to know they’re working for us rather than cleaning out their moats.
The Digital Economy bill, among other things, essentially gives copyright holders (for example, music labels) the right to anonymous lists of suspected filesharers from ISPs and, if the copyright holder so wishes, get the ISP to send out letters to these customers asking them to stop downloading illegally. If the “offender” continues, record labels can, through a court order, request their name and address from the ISP. Overly persistent “offenders” can get their internet connections choked and/or cut off (the ISPs get fined for not doing so, I gather they’ll end up being quite trigger happy just to cover their own arses). As usual, you have the right to appeal, but I anticipate it’ll be an unnecessarily complex process that many simply won’t bother with.
As all preceding events surrounding this bill, it shows, if nothing else, the government’s complete lack of knowledge about technology; ignoring all manner of technical wizardry that can mask actual “offenders” and pass the blame onto an innocent party, check for unsecured WiFi connections in any urban area and you’ll quickly see what I mean. If your IP address is linked to counts of illegal filesharing, the person who owns that internet connection is responsible, with no accounting for the person who actually commited the offence, which is a problem for anyone lacking the technical knowledge to secure their networks – hopefully something internet security firms will be keen to promote over the next few months (at great financial benefit to them I might add). For this, and so many other reasons, this bill is entirely biased against internet users and dedicated in near totality towards protecting the interests of the music industry.
I am not opposed to these laws because they’re anti-filesharing (though I concede that’s a pretty big part of it), but mainly because this bill has been introduced specifically because of the influence of those with the most money – the music industry – and is entirely about benefiting them rather than any sort of level ground. Obviously, filesharing is illegal – but I hate that these laws will mean that people can be labelled as criminals for something so mindlessly small. In any other circumstances, the copyright holders would be told to take their case up with lawyers, but for some reason the government is getting involved – I’m not suggesting (because I can’t) that any bribery took place, but I feel as though money may’ve been an influence, even if it never passed hands.
I’d hoped, when I first heard about this bill, that it may be the lesser of two evils – with there being concrete and clear laws on filesharing, we can prevent another Jammie Thomas incident, a woman who was fined $1.92 million by record labels for downloading 24 songs, a meagre number by most filesharer standards. However, the moment there was talk of cutting off internet connections, something which is both unfair and nigh-on impossible to properly impose, it became clear that this was not for our benefit.
Another shocking addition to the bill, one which I was convinced would be pulled, is the right of Lord Mandelson to block access to websites who are likely to be used for, or in connection with, illegal filesharing. This is a kick in the balls for video sharing site YouTube, of which there are probably more copyrighted videos than original ones – but don’t hope that the government makes an exception for YouTube, because if they do then by what criteria are they doing so? Because they’re bigger than the others? Well that’s smashing, and oddly reflective of this bill, but if they do so then they can justify blocking and allowing any site on the same grounds – then what you’re left with isn’t the Internet as we’ve known it, it’s simply another list of government moderated and approved content.
If Labour remain in power, or more specifically if Peter Mandelson remains Business Secretary (he’s been sacked from every other position he’s ever held, except bending over for the music industry), then this bill – sorry, I mean act now – is simply the first step in a much bigger re-invention of the Internet. What started out as an independent, fair and open media has gradually degenerated into a culture of monopoly (Google), profiteering and, as we now see, corruption; holding a mirror up to western society. Labour’s party slogan is “A fair future for all” – my arse!
If you want a vision of the future, imagine Peter Mandelson’s boot stamping on a face, whist giving David Geffen a hand-job — forever.