The Independent View: Making your voice heard on the file-sharing law

The government has plans for a Digital Economy Bill, which, if you took it at face value, sounds like exactly the kind of thing the government should be focusing on to help keep Britain at the cutting edge of the ‘new economy’.

As usual, however, the details tend to be slightly more complicated. The legislation will, instead, be used to introduce a new system for targeting pretty much everyone who shares files on the internet.

The government wants Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to monitor your broadband connection and send you ‘warning letters’ if you are sharing files improperly. Details of who has been sent a letter will be made available to big corporations, which can then use them in court to sue you.

Small details like who is responsible on a shared wi-fi connection, for example, seem to be totally glossed over.

All this might help some of the big content producers, which would prefer heavy-handed legislation to the trickier job of inventing new business models that customers might actually find useful.

But it does not seem to be going down too well with ISPs, which will be compelled to snoop on their customers and then snitch on them to anyone who thinks they may have been cheated out of a few pounds.

Nor should the legislation be acceptable to the estimated six million people it could affect.

Ministers do not yet seem to have woken up to the full impact of what they are planning, or how controversial this will be when they try to push it through Parliament.

But the government has not yet got to the point of actually legislating – it is currently in the process of consulting on the detail of its proposals.

It is no doubt anticipating that, as per usual for official consultations, only big corporations and well-funded lobby groups will take the time to read and understand the (complicated) consultation document and send in their views.

And, as per usual, it is quite possible that the views of the public will not form part of the policy development process.

This time, however, it could be different.

The #welovetheNHS campaign on Twitter has shown just how overwhelming a mass internet movement can now be, and how hard it is for politicians to resist a genuine wave of public concern.

If there is one thing, other than the NHS, that could unite the vast majority of internet users in Britain, it is the view that the government’s plans are overkill and need a great deal more consideration before being implemented.

The time to make the government aware of your concerns is right now, before the consultation ends on September 15.

And the internet can help you make sure your views are heard.

I’ve read the government’s consultation document and looked at the questions they are asking for views on.

I’ve drafted a response and published it on a website where anyone can copy the text I’ve written and, entirely properly, email it to the Whitehall officials who are dealing with the consultation.

And, as it is published on a wiki, anyone can edit the issues I have listed to expand on them with additional points or raise other concerns. If you have any of your own concerns, please do add them to the site.

If the Whitehall consultation generates little more than a handful of responses on each side, the government will say it is entitled to proceed. But I would not like to be a minister having to explain to Parliament why tens of thousands of objections from the public are being ignored.

I hope all the readers of this blog take the time to think about this issue and let the government know what they feel about it before their views cease to matter.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.
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12 Comments

  • I did a quick search, but (somewhat surprisingly) I can’t find any e-petitions on number10.gov.uk pertaining to this.

    There were, however, a worrying number of petitions for internet censorship. People scare me sometimes.

  • Tim – Yes, unusual to find a subject without a No10 petition about it… but for now I think the consultation is the better way to protest to the government

  • Yes, I think I agree with you. However, if there had been an ongoing petition then I would have felt duty-bound to sign, rather than have it seem like the campaign had less support than it did.

    Thanks for flagging up this issue, by the way. I’m consistently shocked how few people care one way or the other about issues around intellectual property, privacy and the Internet.

  • Herbert Brown 18th Aug '09 - 5:02pm

    “Piracy is a reaction to goods that are not worth the price that the companies are asking, nothing more.”

    Are you sure it’s not a desire to get something for nothing – regardless of whether the goods are worth the asking price?

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Aug '09 - 5:03pm

    Here’s a random but curious observation: while less insane than what the US is up to, the proposals here are to make the penalties for sharing your possessions with your friends approximately 100 times higher than the penalties for shoplifting the CDs.

    The message they are sending is very clear: steal, don’t share.

    (There’s a campaign slogan for you)

  • Thanks for all the responses – hope you’ll all be sending in your criticisms to the government!

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Aug '09 - 10:38pm

    Are you sure it’s not a desire to get something for nothing – regardless of whether the goods are worth the asking price?

    The following data point is relevant: the conversion rate for effective anti-sharing measures is about 1:1000 – that is, you get about one additional sale for every thousand copies prevented. Most people who are receiving shared files are doing so opportunistically; they would not pay for the item. Of these, the majority are unable to pay due to limited or no income. The “untapped customer base of file sharers” notion is a myth; if it wasn’t available for free, they would just go without.

    Whether that translates into “a desire to get something for nothing” is a subjective judgement on precisely what that means. Industry claims of “losses” are pure fiction though – their goal here is to convince other people to pay for them to get that fraction of a percent.

  • Herbert Brown 19th Aug '09 - 12:14am

    Andrew

    I could have sworn I was told only a few hours ago that there were no effective anti-sharing measures, short of a totalitarian state. And that was why it was “illiberal” for file-sharing to be illegal.

    And supposing such things did exist, how on earth could you know how many additional sales had been generated? Let alone what proportion of the others were “unable to pay”. Can you back up any of the claims you’re making?

  • “Piracy is a reaction to goods that are not worth the price that the companies are asking, nothing more.”

    Metallica managed to sell plenty of stuff though (though personally I think everything from “And Justice…” onwards isn’t even worth downloading for free)

  • Libdem Guru 28th Aug '09 - 1:34am

    The Law protects the big and small acts. End of story.

    Circumvention of the 2003 Act is just that. The ISP’s have indirectly made a fortune from illegal copyright material and they should pay up.

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