+++ BREAKING: Freedom, Creativity & the Internet motion passed overwhelmingly

Liberal Democrat Voice at Conference

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The last morning of conference has a traditional feel to it. Sore-headed delegates drag themselves wearily out of bed, stagger to the nearest coffee emporium, point themselves in the general direction of the conference venue and start walking, hopeful that some residual memory of that first, non-hungover, visit will get them there.

The venue opened at 8.30am and by 9 o’clock the small trickle of Lib Dem activists has turned into a slightly larger trickle.

Whether through abstinence and early night or impressive force of will, some travellers seem a little less weary.

Julian Huppert, one of the driving forces behind this morning’s emergency motion on Freedom, Creativity and the Internet may have wisely decided that getting blind drunk and staggering to his hotel room at 5am wasn’t the ideal preparation for winning conference over at 9.15am.

Our own Mark Pack seems wholly untroubled by the human frailties the rest of us suffer, then Vince Cable sweeps past magesterially, Lynne Featherstone shows a glint in her eye and, until my colleague Helen Duffett arrives, I begin to wonder if it’s just me who could have done with a few more hours sleep.

The question is, can we shake ourselves out of our collective torpor and “Save the Internet” (as the leaflet I was handed yesterday urged; though I suspect the Internet will soldier on for another few days no matter how we vote this morning)?

Bridget Fox, our Parliamentary Candidate for Islington, opens the batting for the motion’s supporters. In the last fortnight, Bridget has received emails from people she trusts complaining about the amendment to the Digital Economy Bill.

The amendment was proposed by two Lib Dem peers and supported by the Conservatives. Labour’s idea that ministers should be able to shut down websites they believe to be infringing copyright was terrible but, Bridget tells us, the amendment – drafted by a Labour PPC and proposed by the Lib Dem peers with the best of intentions – simply wasn’t good enough.

Neville Farmer, PPC for Wye Forest, tells us that he’s a victim of piracy himself – some of his works, books and music, have been stolen and made available on the Internet without him getting a penny. But he’s in no doubt that the motion should be supported, and the Internet must be kept free. He argues that the downsides of piracy are greatly outweighed by the benefits of having a free and open Internet not controlled by big corpations and vested interests. He says that, although he has suffered from piracy on the Internet, his real problem is that he hasn’t received payment from his record company or publisher for the legitimate sales.

Next up is Mark Pack. Mark points out that for every one person who buys the Guardian on paper, around eight visit the Guardian’s website each day. He says how central the Internet is to the lives of millions of people and how all the biggest ISPs and web companies say the Digital Economy Bill would seriously damage .

Sarah Ludford MEP points out that the amendment does improve on the original bill, not least that it changed Labour’s unsurprising “guilty until proved innocent” approach to a more liberal “innocent until proved guilty”. However, she’s in no doubt that the amendment doesn’t go far enough. The Federal Policy Committee recognises this as a big hole in Lib Dem policy, which was last updated in 2002. The FPC accepts we need a new policy group to look at this and fully supports setting this up.

Prateek Buch from Chingford and Woodford Green and name-checks Lib Dem Voice – good start: flattery will get you everywhere.

Mark Thompson of Mark Reckons fame, and recent council by-election candidate in Bracknell, is next up to the stage. Mark shares his love of old TV shows and his joy at being able to watch old TV shows online, even though they’re under copyright. These parts of our heritage, Mark reckons, should be freely available: we shouldn’t lose them just because the copyright holders can’t make money out of it. Then Mark accuses Bob Monkhouse of being a criminal – is nothing sacred!

David Matthewman from Leyton and Wanstead has been online since the age of two – not something you expect to hear from someone with greying hair. David respects copyright and has shelves of legal CDs and DVDs. He supports the motion as a Liberal and a net professional – he doesn’t want to see vested interests controlling the Internet. David ends with an anecdote of someone who, in 2004, put a portion of J.S. Mill’s “On Liberty” on the Internet and then went to ISPs with totally unfounded claims that he had copyright over it. The ISPs took it down.

Neil McGovern from Cambridge, like every speaker, speaks well and clearly, re-iterating the points made by other speakers and pointing out the popularity of the Pirate Party in Sweden, especially among the younger age-group.

John Brace from Birkenhead speaks out against censorship and explains the value of holding people to account, even though (or perhaps because) they might not like it.

David Wright from Harlow is worried that a web hoster could be blocked on suspicion that just one site is a copyright infringer, even though the hoster might host thousands of websites. “The law courts are open to everyone, just like the Ritz”

Julian Huppert, the Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge sums up. Julian thanks the thousands who joined the Facebook group, the MEPs, the MPs, Bridget Fox and Cory Doctorow for their help in the campaign.

Every single speaker, plus several who put in cards and weren’t able to be called, has spoken in favour of this motion, and against both Labour’s Digitial Economy Bill and the Lords’ amendment which didn’t go far enough.

The motion is passed – I think just one person in the hall voted against it.

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5 Comments

  • Great stuff, I hope everyone continues to see sense and throws out this stupid ill thought out bill altogether. Hopefully after the election a team can write a proper one. The Dark Lord must be stopped before he breaks our internet.

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Mar '10 - 11:37am

    I’m not surprised. When people wake up and think about these things, it’s a no-brainer. The problem is that most of the time, there is apathy and disinterest from everybody other than the corporate interests who are trying to grab power.

    Nice to see that the FPC is now firmly on board here. Hopefully there will be real policy by the next election.

  • I think you just won back my vote, great work guys!

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