The Digital Economy Bill: the real reason for people’s angst?
I’ve been following the progress of the Digital Economy bill over the last few days. Predominantly because of the plethora of #debill hashtags that have littered my Twitter feed of late. It culminated in my watching two hours of live parliamentary debate late last night, ending in an overwhelming majority Commons vote to pass the bill, and a subsequent passing of the bill in the House of Lords today.
Here’s my take on it all, which may cause some debate and disagreement.
The bill itself doesn’t overly concern me. Among other things, seemingly its most controversial measure is to give copyright owners an indirect route to contact those suspected of copyright fraud.
Now in principle, this seems like an honourable and justifiable cause. People are stealing stuff, and there are currently insufficient means for these people to be prosecuted.
The concern—or at least the concern that people are voicing—focuses around the possibility that innocent people will be prosecuted, either because of a questionable copyright claim or, more worryingly it seems, through innocent people’s wi-fi connections being stolen by neighbours or, as cited in the parliamentary debate, people parking cars outside people’s houses with their laptops on their knees.
As I see it, the internet is like a road system. And we should use it within the confines of the law. Our routers are akin to our cars, and we should protect them in a similar manner to the way in which we protect our vehicles. And the measures that are being put in place are, in principle, similar to speed cameras. They record that an incident might have occurred and notify the possible infringer of this occurrence.
If someone receives a speeding ticket in the post, as the owner of the vehicle it is up to them to identify the person who was driving at the time and pay the fine accordingly. Why any different for router owners?
Places in which multiple people can access the internet, such as libraries, internet cafés, wi-fi hotspots, have an obligation to reduce the incident of criminality, or else ensure that they can track down those people who have—using means that they have provided—acted illegally. In this guise, they are like car rental companies, who ensure that any speeding fines and parking tickets are passed on to the people who have perpetrated the crimes.
Underlying all of this debate and the negativity surrounding the bill, I think there is a more sinister dynamic going on, one that the analogous speeding ticket example has also suffered. Some people feel that the law is an ass. With driving, they feel that 70mph should be open to interpretation. And with digital media, they see the money that Robbie Williams and Steven Spielberg make, and think that stealing from such wealthy individuals isn’t a crime in the true sense of the word.
I don’t concur with this view—stealing is stealing, and speeding is speeding. And Williams and Spielberg are convenient examples, that deflect the attention from the smaller artists who lose out through illegal file-sharing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think the way in which the bill was rattled through parliament was wrong. There seem to be weaknesses in the bill that have not been given the due diligence necessary and the deadline of parliament dissolving seems to have trumped common sense. But nonetheless, I feel that the fundamentals of the bill and the principles for which it stands are sound, despite Stephen Timms’ thinking IP addresses are Intellectual Property addresses.
And now I await the wrath of the rabid Twitterati, who, it seems, have been successfully whipped into a frenzy, many of whom I feel have followed the crowd rather than forming their own opinions. Just sayin’.