Correspondance on the Digital Economy Bill

I received this email from my MP last week-

Dear Mr Pattinson,

Thank you for getting in touch to make your views known on the Digital Economy Bill. I have received a vast number of complaints from constituents in the last few days expressing disapproval to the Bill. As I understand it, the Bill has been rushed and ill-conceived and although it contains some good points, it has been badly drafted, without thorough consideration. Moreover, it is disappointing that the Government seems intent on rushing the Bill through Parliament before it is dissolved.

The Digital Economy Bill is wide ranging and covers issues such as a new remit for Channel 4, the classification of computer games, plans for switchover to digital radio and the future of regional news on ITV as well as the issue of illegal downloading.

The Liberal Democrats support the creative industries and believe that many aspects of this Bill are vitally important to the continuing success of our radio, television and content industries.

We are also concerned about the financial implications of illegal downloading of copyright material and recognise the importance of protecting intellectual property.

A report published on 17th March 2010 predicted that a quarter of a million jobs in the UK’s creative industries could be lost by 2015 if current trends in online piracy continue.

Commenting on it, Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “The results of the study stress that the growth of unauthorised file-sharing, downloading and streaming of copyrighted works and recorded performances is a major threat to the creative industries in terms of loss of employment and revenues. The scale of the problem is truly frightening now – let alone in the future if no firm actions against illegal file-sharing are taken.”

For these reasons we do believe that some action is needed and must form part of the Digital Economy Bill.

However, we have opposed – and defeated – government proposals (contained in Clause 17 of the original Digital Economy Bill) to give itself almost unfettered powers to act against copyright infringement.

Furthermore, as a result of debates instigated and amendments passed by the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, the government’s original proposals relating to illegal peer-to-peer file-sharing have been significantly improved.

As a result, no action to introduce “technical measures” (whether temporary account suspension, bandwidth throttling or whatever) can be introduced until;

1. soft measures (letter writing) have been used
2. an evaluation of their effectiveness has been undertaken
3. an evaluation of the need for, and likely effectiveness of, technical measures has been undertaken
4. further consultation has taken place
5. proposed legislation is brought before parliament for decision, and
6. there is an explicit assumption of innocence until proved guilty

The Liberal Democrats remain concerned by some aspects of the system for tackling peer-to-peer file-sharing being introduced in the Bill and will take further action in the Commons to scrutinise and improve the legislation. In particular, we are concerned that there will not be enough time for in-depth consultation on the initial code that Ofcom will draw up. We also feel that there is currently inadequate protection in the Bill for schools, libraries, universities and other businesses offering internet access to the public.

We are also unconvinced of the merits of the various technical measures that have been proposed, including bandwidth shaping and temporary account suspension. For this reason we have amended the Bill to ensure that any such measures cannot be introduced without proper consultation and not until evidence has been produced to prove that this is the best available option. We are further seeking to ensure that any measures brought before parliament will be subject to maximum scrutiny in both Houses and that it will be possible for changes to be made to them before a final decision is made.

We are urging the creative music, film and video games industries to work more vigorously to develop new business models which will make it easier and more affordable for people to legally access their products. We hope that this combined with “soft measures” and an effective education campaign will mean that further action will not be required.

We agreed at our Spring Conference last weekend to establish a working party to address these issues. With at least a year before there will be any attempt to introduce “technical measures”, this will provide an opportunity for the party to consider the outcome of research into the effectiveness of the early stages of the implementation of the legislation in the digital economy Bill.

The Bill has now completed all stages in the Lords but cannot proceed unless it has, as a minimum, been debated at a “Second Reading” in the Commons. We believe that many of the measures in the Bill that do not relate to illegal file sharing are important and must be allowed to go into law. However, in respect of those that relate to illegal file sharing we will not support them in the Commons if we are not satisfied that the procedures in place are fair and allow for full consultation and scrutiny before their introduction in the future.

I assure you that the Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport team will make sure the Bill is debated thoroughly when it passes to the Commons and that Government attempts to rush it through will be blocked. It is essential that a Bill with such extensive provisions be debated and considered thoroughly.

Thank you for taking the time to get in touch.

Kind regards,

John Leech

Despite Mr Leech’s reassurances, it looks like the Liberal Democrats may not be prepared to debate the issue as thoroughly as needed. I hope the Open Rights Group have got the wrong impression and the Lib Dems are going to put some serious effort into opposing the bill.


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