Digital Economy Bill - My Thoughts

Here are some of my thoughts on the contents of the bill, and it’s repercussions on the music industry at large. You can read my previous post about what the bill actually  is here. If you only have time to read a little, please read the final section.

We need to control online piracy with firm action (aka, a stick).

And the way to do this is to have legislation that allows ISP’s to work alongside (not on behalf of) the copyright owners to educate, warn, and take firm action against those users not abiding by the law. If people persist in infringing after several warnings and fines, then I see no reason why they shouldn’t have their access to the internet restricted, at least for a short time (perhaps a month). However, there MUST be alternative methods of consuming media, appropriately priced for all demographics (see below). Any IP address that is used as a wifi hotspot by multiple users temporarily (such as cafe’s, libraries, etc) should have extra allowances made, with temporary disconnection simply not being an option.

The Rights Holders have to reimburse all costs involved in false accusations.

If not, Rights Holders will simply accuse anyone they can of infringement, safe in the knowledge that it costs them nothing. They are businesses after all, and ethics do not seem to influence their decisions unless they know the results will go public. A recent enquiry by The Times found that in order to abide these new laws, the ISP’s will be met with costs approaching £500 million. If the ISP’s are to be held responsible for these costs, shouldn’t they also be responsible for the cost of regulating all other parts of the web that do not abide by the law? Not only should rights holders be contributing towards the costs of false accusations, but also towards the sending out of the first few warnings, as it is these that will be the most costly, the most educational, the most affective, and the most important.

The law can never keep up with technology and many will hide their online identities, but this argument is missing the point.

IP addresses (the way the offender is identified), can be easily hidden with the use of Darknets, VPN’s, or many other ways (as explained here), rendering it impossible for the ISP’s to track them. No amount of legislation will ever be able to keep up with technology. BUT, the bill isn’t meant to be stopping those people, as they are determined to avoid the law and have the time and expertise to do so. The government cannot publicly admit this as that would make a mockery of the whole bill.

It is the casual users that the bill is targeting, whose numbers far outweigh those in the opposite group. These are users who as soon as they read the first letter are too scared to continue, whose parents realise the risk they are at and take a more active role in controlling what their children are doing, and those people that simply didn’t realise that what they were doing was wrong. The main point of this though, is that government must avoid turning users currently in the latter group to becoming part of the former. Not only is it unhealthy for national security to have a nation of untraceable internet users, but there are huge repercussions for the rights holders, which is discussed in more depth later.

The illegal distribution of copyrighted material helps good music (or media) to spread, but not as well as services that CAN be launched.

Nobody (who isn’t stupid) is denying that the illegal sharing helps spread the word about good music. But there ARE LEGAL WAYS of ‘spreading good music’ that exist, though they are few in number. The best ways of spreading good music are yet to be imagined or produced, and one of the reasons for this bill is to allow these new services to prosper without the pressures of illegal alternatives. With the support of the government and some forward thinking rights holders, there will be new ways of spreading music that are better than the illegal alternatives. I hope.

Banning the use of web-​​lockers is more ridiculous than banning your Mum.

Personally, I use web-​​lockers (yousendit, megaupload, rapidshare, google docs) constantly and have accounts with several, as there are no easier ways of sending large files to people easily and securely (though there are better ways). The essence of these services is that what I put in them is private. The media industry’s main problem with these sites is that they can’t see what is being shared, which is the whole point of them. To restrict the use of web-​​lockers is to prevent me from sending anything to anyone else privately over the internet. Also, the costs of preventing UK residents from accessing the sites would be HUGE.

However, news has recently broken that Rapidshare (a weblocker) has began terminating accounts of their users who download copyrighted material. These users will often move elsewhere, but it is still a great sign and almost certainly a direct reaction to Clause 18 of this proposed bill. If they are seen to be attempting to abide by the law, then they could avoid being identified as a site that allows for ‘substantial’ infringement of copyright.

So, banning access to them is ridiculous. But pressuring them to take responsibility of the content they host may work, at least on the surface.

The Open Rights Group are a bunch of idealistic dreamers.

Arguments from this group have been narrow minded, misleading, and often completely false. Read their thoughts on the subject here. Yes, it should be the right of every UK Citizen to have access to the internet. However, when that privilege is abused, that right can be taken away. The right to be free to walk the streets, the right to drive a car, the right to own a house or business, and the right to wear 3 trilby hats at the same time in Shoreditch, are all rights that are taken away if they are abused. I do not see this issue as being any different. They have a protest this morning (Wednesday) in Central London. Let’s hire a man who’s had his license revoked for dangerous driving to mow them all down.

Due to pressures from industry bodies, the government are rushing into this without the necessary debate.

Watching most politicians discuss this has been farcical at best. As a collective group, it is plainly obvious that they simply do not understand the wider issues they are discussing, and the repercussions that will be felt. But why should they? They’re busy running the country, and personally I don’t begrudge them for not being experts on these relatively new developments. However rather than admit this, they have been too happy to please the requests of the major industries at threat. The Lib Dems putting forward an amendment originally written by the BPI is simply unacceptable. Blame should not be on the BPI’s shoulders, as they should of course be putting their ideas forward. However it is unacceptable that the Lib Dems are placing such importance on the views of the BPI, to the point where they are willing to literally copy their words. Government should be taking the time to understand the bill, and not rushing into the process of making our country’s laws.

My Recommendations

There will be many results of this bill, and the action that will be taken using it’s new legislation will be broad. The most important outcome to avoid, BY FAR, is the result of converting the casual users of illegal sites to users who become comfortable on the wrong side of the law, safe in the knowledge that they will not be caught. Whether they choose to convert will depend on the options given to them in their initial warning letters. To anyone with even the simplest knowledge of computers, googling ‘hiding your IP address’ will enable you to disappear off the radar in a matter of minutes. Once that happens, it will take huge efforts to convert them back, and they may well be lost forever. Let’s not forget that it is the casual consumers of music that keep the major record labels alive, not the obsessive ones.

The key to not losing them is to make sure the list of services they offer as an alternative are great ones, priced appropriately. There is something for everyone waiting to be launched. For example, you will never win over the student market as they have no money and a lot of time, so why not give them ‘all-​​you-​​can-​​eat’ subscription services subsidised by rights holders, ISP’s, and universities? They will become music fans and start paying as soon as they start earning, develop brand loyalty to the chosen network (reducing churn for the ISP’s), enable transactions to be tracked, and it will mean that the universities do not have thousands of students breaking the law in their buildings. A similar solution can be argued for all demographics, which I will try to explore in subsequent posts. The main point is, the services need to be there BEFORE the letters.

My other concern is that this is simply being rushed, and is not the correct bill. There are too many gaping holes in it, and though the amendments have helped (sometimes) it still isn’t enough. There is far more to be discussed that has not been mentioned here, particularly involving the premise that defendants are ‘guilty until proven innocent’, as well as the plight of photographers with the reassessment on the classification of orphan works (read about it here).

Discussion is vital. We, from Torrent Testing Teenagers, Parents, Artists, The Media Industries, MP’s, and the current and future Prime Ministers, are all learning a great deal by TALKING. The more time we take to learn, the better. Perhaps by listening the media industries can also learn how not to lose access to the consumers they still have left.

NB. As I hope you are aware, I have not come to these conclusions by simply reading the bill. I have read broadly on this issue, and taken many different views into account in order to make my own. If you would like to explore this subject further, you can do so by paying attention to the following people and sites.

The Digital Economy Bill – here, The Digital Britain Report – here, The Guardian’s running commentary – here, Techcrunch – here, The BPIhere, Tom Watson MP –  Blog here Twitter here ‚ Lilian Edwards – here, Cory Doctorow – here, and anyone discussing the issues with the #DEB over the past few weeks on twitter.

Please let me know your thoughts below, if you have any. If you are opposed to the bill, you can email your local MP here.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook