The enormous collateral damage of the Digital Economy Bill

Dear [MP’s name]

As your constituent I would like to alert you to key problems with the Digital Economy Bill currently being debated in the Lords (1). Specifically I’ll address those parts which relate to combatting copyright infringement through file sharing. I do not defend breach of copyright, which I recognise as an infringement of civil law. However, I would like to point out that this bill is the product of intense lobbying funded by multinational rights companies who are prepared to compromise the civil rights of their entire customer base for the sake of a holding pattern for their obsolete business model.

I have three main concerns, which I’ll outline briefly below.

1. The need for proportionate punishment which avoids collateral damage.

Under the current terms, the account holder is held responsible for the actions of each person who uses their connection, and everybody who uses the connection is punished along with the transgressor. Moreover, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are subject to heavy fines if they refuse rights holders’ demand for the personal details of infringers. ISPs oppose this bill (2).

Society is dependent on internet to the extent that we can reasonably consider it a utility comparable to water, gas or electricity. We pay our bills, access services, and shop on it. We learn on it – I work in a higher education institution which, under current terms, could be disconnected from the internet, a devastating collective punishment. Universities oppose this bill (3).

My neighbours, two teachers, could be disconnected if one of their two school-age sons were to illicitly share files over the family internet connection. Disconnecting the many small businesses along Barkingside High Street which depend on internet access could be fatal. The Federation of Small Businesses opposes this bill (4).

2. Low standards of evidence and poor appeals process.

Currently the bill permits unspecified technical measures – most likely involving a period of disconnection from the Internet – to be levelled at individual accounts holders on the basis of three letters of accusation from a rights holder. Infringers take measures to mask their identity; frequently the account holder is not the infringer. Because the courts are bypassed, there is no recourse to legal aid in an appeal.

3. Poorly-defined measures and secondary law-making powers.

Currently, the bill entitles law-making on the fly independently of Parliament and the Lords. It is unreasonable to expect the public to accept this bill on the understanding that the Secretary of State will decide the law later by Statutory Instrument. We cannot leave UK law open in anticipation of future, hitherto uninvented forms of transgression; this is particularly absurd given that the bill singles out broadband users and ignores mobile phone connections and established forms of file sharing such as disc and USB drive. It is particularly strange that a sliding scale of fines is not under debate. A fine would limit the collateral damage, and the terms of payment could be negotiated according the the income of the account holder.

I’d like to make the following urgent requests prior to the Commons debate on this bill:

  • Read the Open Rights Group’s briefing for MPs (5)
  • Back EDM 1997
  • Campaign for proportionality in this bill, and for a fine rather than disconnection.
  • Call for legal safeguards for individual internet users, including a clear appeals process with access to legal aid, be written into the bill before it is passed.

I have left a message to arrange an appointment, and look forward to discussing this further with you.

Yours sincerely,

[My name and addresses]
(1) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldbills/001/10001.i-ii.html
(2) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/7079982/TalkTalk-would-fight-Digital-Economy-Bill-in-court.html
(3) http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/~/media/Files/members/consultations/2010/DEB_response_Puttnam%20pdf.ashx
(4) http://www.fsb.org.uk/policy/trade_and_industry
(5) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/assets/files/pdfs/p2p-briefing-print.pdf

(N.b. this omits the privacy concerns – ISP’s being forced by OfCom to divulge personal details of account holders to rights holders; possible end to anonymous file sharing.)

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One thought on “The enormous collateral damage of the Digital Economy Bill

  1. Pingback: Unintended Consequences. « ModernityBlog

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