Kevin (not his real name) drives his son Danny to the shops. Danny pops in and emerges with various items in a bag, for which he has paid. In his pocket there is a packet of biscuits which he trousered while collecting the other items. CCTV spots the fact that he has done it and he is prosecuted for shoplifting.
A few weeks later, Kevin’s garage makes contact and says that the Government has issued an order that he take his car into the garage to be adjusted so that it can do no more than 30 miles per hour. He is warned that if the car is associated with any future shoplifting it will be confiscated.
Absurd? Of course it is. Danny has, of course, committed a crime and should face the due penalty. The biscuit manufacturer has every right to expect payment from those who consume its product. But to penalise the whole household by first damaging the usability of the vehicle and then confiscating it is a disproportionate remedy.
No sensible country would do this. Or would it?
The Digital Economy Act 2010 prescribes precisely this sort of penalty for illegal file-sharing. If it is not appropriate for biscuits, it is not appropriate for other assets.
Option A of motion F28 (dealing with the Digital Economy), debated on Monday, offers representatives an opportunity to oppose this quintessentially illiberal piece of legislation. It calls for the repeal of sections 3-18 of the Digital Economy Act, which enshrine internet disconnections as a remedy for illegal file-sharing.
It also calls for an independent review of the true impact of file-sharing. We are told that the damage to the creative industry is immense and that producers’ and artists’ revenues are suffering as a result. But is that really the case?
Is not most file-sharing – apart from the mass copyright breaches which rightly deserve the full weight of the criminal law – at worst marginal and at best a means of advertising? Many of us remember tapes being made of LPs when we were teenagers. Those that we came to love have long since been replaced by legitimate CD purchases or ITunes downloads.
And surely the barriers to the growth of creative industries lie elsewhere – the lack of opportunities for young people to use musical and recording equipment, the attitude of banks and the lack of studios and tax breaks?
Option B also looks at this question, but merely calls for the offending sections not to be implemented while the facts are ascertained. This essentially misses the point: even if there were real damage from file sharing the criminal penalty must be proportionate and liberal. Bad law is bad law even if the offence it tackles is particularly offensive.
Nor does it actually work: similar legislation in Sweden and France has not produced a measurable reduction in piracy.
Clearly those of us who will be voting for option A support creators, and want them to benefit from their work. But the answer is not to use illiberal, mistargeted measures that don’t work.