Digital Economy Bill sails through House of Commons after a mere two hours of debate, moves back to House of Lords, where it’s expected to rubber stamp the legislation, and will soon get royal assent to become the law of the land.
After Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked the Queen to dissolve Parliament yesterday morning it moved the bill into the so called “wash-up” period. During this time any outstanding bills are quickly vetted and voted through within 48 to 72 hours of its dissolution.
A process that would’ve normally taken several weeks or even months of legislative scrutiny was squeezed into a two-hour Commons debate where only 39 of 646 MPs took part (5%). Largely ignored were the more than 20,000 people who wrote their MPs voicing their opposition to the DEB and demanding “proper consideration” of the bill’s effects.
“What a debacle. Measures to allow disconnection of individuals from the internet, for undefined periods of time, web blocking laws; all with no real scrutiny and limited debate,” laments Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group.
Today the bill is being considered for a final time in the Lords, where peers are expected to rubber stamp the legislation.
So what does it mean for you?
1. After apparent copyright abuse, copyright holders can send a “copyright infringement report” to ISPs with evidence of the downloading, within one month of the alleged incident. The ISP must notify its subscriber within a month, providing evidence and information about appeals and legal advice.
2. ISPs, if requested, must provide copyright holders with a “copyright infringement list”, listing each infringement by an individual, anonymized user.
3. The govt. can tell Ofcom whether it should order ISPs to sanction speed blocks, bandwidth shaping, site blocking, account suspension or other limits against an ISP customer. First, Ofcom must do consultation and consider whether these measures would work.
4. If the measures pass Ofcom’s muster, the govt. can then level the measures against ISPs, but only if approved by both houses of parliament.
5. Subscribers can appeal to an independent person named in Ofcom’s code and, later, to a first-tier tribunal. Costs would be met by the ISP, copyright holder and subscriber.
6. ISPs that fail to apply technical measures against subscribers can be fined up to £250,000, as Ofcom determines.
Copyright owners must pay Ofcom’s costs; both copyright owners and ISPs must pay costs of implementing technical measures; accused subscribers must also share appeal costs.
7. High Court can grant injunction forcing ISPs to block access to “online locations” if a “substantial portion” of that location infringes copyright. ISPs must pay copyright owners’ court fees unless in “exceptional circumstances.” However, courts will have to consider the effect on legitimate uses and users of sites before granting a blocking injunction, and ISPs will not be expected to pay court costs to “ensure that there is no incentive on ISPs to block a site until or unless they have a court order requiring them to do so.”
Also, and probably the worst part, is that it bans public access Wi-Fi so that libraries, universities, local pubs, cafes, churches, community halls, etc. don’t become loopholes for copyright infringement in the “three-strikes” age as proposed by the Digital Economy Bill.
UK ISP TalkTalk has criticized that portion, among others, warning of a costly equipment upgrade by Internet users to prevent Wi-Fi piggybacking which it says as much as 41% in some areas are susceptible.
“The Bill is now in much better shape than when first tabled by the Government last year – the ability of the Government to impose disconnection at will has been checked and the Henry VIII clause that literally allowed the Government to do anything else to reduce copyright infringement has been removed, ” says Andrew Heaney, strategy and regulation director at TalkTalk. “However, many draconian proposals remain such as the responsibility on customers to protect their home networks from hacking at a collective cost of hundreds of millions of pounds a year, the presumption that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent and, as in China, the potential for legitimate search engines and websites to be blocked.”
The real threat remains the power of “three-strikes” where entire households will be held accountable for the action of a file-sharing teen, or worse, a Wi-Fi stealing neighbor or passerby. With reports last year of numerous innocent UK elderly couples being sued for illegal downloading (porn /video games) when can expect to see a flood of new cases when the DEB becomes law and scrutiny falls countrywide.
The sad thing is that when the DEB does become law it likely won’t have the intended effect, even if parts of it were taken verbatim from the British music industry’s wish list.
After France passed “three-strikes” legislation last September, researchers at the University of Rennes found that illegal downloading has actually increased by some 3%, and that 2/3 of former P2P users have simply switched to alternatives like illegal streaming sites and HTTP-based download services (i.e. Rapidshare).
Last December the BPI criticized similar news in the UK when it reported that the number of people using web-based, non-P2P methods of downloading music illegally, such as unlicensed MP3 pay sites, newsgroups, or blogs and forums linking to file-hosting sites like Rapidshare and Mega Upload, are growing considerably.
Note that this was well before the DEB, and so the number of people using non-P2P methods is sure to rise considerably. For it won’t stop newsgroups. It won’t stop Rapidshare. It won’t stop overseas unlicensed video streaming or MP3 pay sites, and it sure as heck won’t stop Google from including links to copyrighted material in its search results.
The real problem has, and always will be, the entertainment industry’s inability to remedy a failing business model. It insists on demanding prices and restrictions on use and accessibility that make illegal P2P attractive. The DEB will not fix any of these shortcomings any more than it will stop them from switching to P2P alternatives.
In the end, the music way win, but its the British society that loses.
For all the criticism Europe likes to heap on the US for its supposed lack of enlightenment and concern for human rights, I find it absolutely fascinating that two of its pillars – France and the UK – have gone to such great lengths to please the entertainment industry at the expense of its peoples’ freedom and liberty.
As a reminder, the Pirate Party UK has posted a list of its candidates for the scheduled May 6th elections.