Julian Huppert: Winning the battle on the Digital Economy Act

In common with many Liberal Democrats, I have opposed the Digital Economy Act since its introduction as a Bill during the dog-days of the Labour government.

Along with Bridget Fox, Obhi Chatterjee and an army of activists online and offline, I helped to get an emergency motion passed almost unanimously at Spring Conference last year that condemned the Bill, in particular for its provisions on website-blocking.

The motion also called for a working group to be created to draw up policy papers on information technology and intellectual property. I now act as chair of that working group, and you can find details of its progress at www.makeitpolicy.org.uk, among other places.

When we went into Coalition with the Conservatives, back in May 2010, I was hopeful that we could make progress on the most egregious elements of the Act. After all, during the election campaign, we had taken the view that due to the meagre and opaque wash-up process that allowed the Bill to become law, its worst sections should be repealed in their entirety. Progress looked unlikely, though, a few weeks after the election, when Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced that the Act wouldn’t be repealed after all.

But this did not kill opposition to the Act: far from it. Instead the campaign went from strength to strength, culminating – or so we thought – in November when BT and TalkTalk secured a judicial review which begins this month, considering whether the Act is in breach of European legislation on e-commerce, privacy and technical standards.

And today we have received even better news. Jeremy Hunt has asked Ofcom to assess whether the Act’s site-blocking powers are feasible.

I firmly believe that this is a step in the right direction. Almost everyone who has looked in detail at these provisions, from home internet users to the Open Rights Group to the big corporations (who one might have thought would be firmly on board), has already realised that they simply won’t work. Even worse, they put the emphasis on curbing freedom and ‘cracking down’ rather than on nurturing creativity and innovation.

This outcome is also pleasing because this was one of the main issues raised on the Your Freedom website soon after the general election. It is good to see the government listening to widespread public concern about the nature of these powers. Nick Clegg has been instrumental in pushing this forward, and was able to give me an encouraging answer at DPMQs just two weeks ago.

I look forward to the result of the review, but I hope there is more to come; although the Act is not all bad, there are other aspects that were rushed and are in need of considerable amendment. Those who care about a liberal, innovative internet must not rest on their laurels; there is much work still to be done if we are to win the battle.

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9 Comments

  • If you want to free up commerce and stop stifling creativity, then stop places from Second Life being subject to VAT, it’s absurd that anyone wanting to start a business there is at a 20% disadvantage.

  • @At Julian Huppert – Taken from the link below: Interesting about the role of the 2 LibDem Peers.

    ‘The specific parts of the Digital Economy Act Ofcom will question are sections 17 and 18. They give the government powers, currently held in reserve, to compel ISPs to block named websites which “facilitate” copyright infringement. To use these powers, Mr Hunt would require the consent of both houses of Parliament and the courts.

    ‘Ironically, they were inserted in to the Act by two Liberal Democrat peers, who were sympathetic to entertainment industry concerns about “web lockers”, which allow internet users to set up an anonymous drop box for any type of file.’

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/8296041/What-is-behind-the-Ofcom-review-of-web-blocking-powers.html

  • I’m pleased with this. Keep up the good work!
    The Lib Dems’ anti-#deact stance was what encouraged me to vote for them.

  • Mildly encouraging news.

    Thanks for the timely reminder – more power to your elbow Julian!

  • @Andy Hinton
    @Jonathan Featonby

    I have never agreed with legislation being pushed through without proper scrutiny and that is irrespective of party as the faults always come back to bite you or sometimes a government of a fresh colour.

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