Julian Huppert MP writes: Hargreaves and site-blocking: a good start

I was pleased when Vince Cable announced, yesterday, the government’s response to the Hargreaves Report. Like many people who are interested in IT & IP, I was pretty worried that it might turn out to be another damp squib, where an eminent academic publishes a set of excellent proposals, only for the government to fail to act. This, of course, is what happened after the Gowers Review.

Thankfully the Coalition is supporting all ten of Professor Hargreaves’ recommendations. They are important copyright reforms that could add as much as £7 billion, or 0.6%, to the UK economy – most welcome at a time of wider financial difficulty. I hope that most Lib Dems would instinctively recognise that moves to encourage parody and satire are desirable, and as for format-shifting – copying CDs to your iPod, for instance – the exceptions to copyright there are long overdue.

Vince also announced that the government would no longer be attempting to implement the site-blocking measures in the Digital Economy Act. As regular readers of this website will know, the repeal of the file-sharing measures in the DEA has long been one of my political priorities, and I have written frequently and sometimes at length to update Lib Dems on its lack of progress – which I welcome!

But as Paul Thompson has already suggested, this cannot be considered a total victory by any means. The reason the government has given for the abandonment of these measures is not one based on principle, but one based on redundancy: that following the judgement last week forcing BT to block Newzbin, rights holders now have another way forward.

I think there’s quite a lot here to be cautious about. While it’s a good thing that another report has shown the DEA to be a singularly flawed piece of legislation – hardly surprising, given its history – I won’t be satisfied until we have a genuinely liberal approach to copyright and piracy in place. That sort of approach must prioritise clear legal process and a proper evidence base – not selective data from precisely those organisations most likely to benefit from draconian legislation.

Our forthcoming policy paper, produced by the working group I had the honour of chairing, will also contribute to the debate around these issues. Liberal Democrats have a great opportunity to influence the direction of Britain’s digital policy. Yesterday was a good example of what can be achieved – but there is always more to be done!

Julian Huppert is the Member of Parliament for Cambridge. He recently chaired the Liberal Democrat policy working group on Information Technology.

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4 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 4th Aug '11 - 6:58pm

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Good news at last.

  • Yes, but cases under s97A of the 1988 Act involve detailed analysis of what is reasonable and possible, on a case by case basis. The scrapped measures were, apart from being redundant, also deemed to be unworkable and unmanageable.

    Yet the filesharing measures involving subscribers, implicity requires them to adopt “reasonable measures” to prevent shared connections from being used for copyright infringement. If a workable and manageable solution does not exist which can achieve that on the ISP side of the modem, then where is this magical solution that subscribers are expected to implement on their side.

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