This evening, as the Second Reading of the Digital Economy Bill was heard in the House of Commons, you were watched by a great many people. Many of these people had never watched Parliament in session before. Almost universal was the horror and anger at the affront to the democratic process which was unfolding before our eyes.
This letter is addressed to you because you stated your support for the bill, and helped ensure its passage to the compressed “wash-up” stage of proceedings, despite the wide-ranging, contentious and to many unknown provisions it includes. Some of you expressed your dismay at the contempt shown for the House, the lack of scrutiny which has been afforded, and your deep concerns with respect to certain provisions. Despite this, you pledged your support for the bill, in one case claiming to “do so under duress”.
To the British public who were watching, this was abhorrent.
While some talked of the “powerful ISPs and their digital friends”, note this: those who send you letters — numbered in their tens of thousands — did so principally to demand proper debate in the Commons of a piece of legislation which is poorly-understood, both within and outside of the Palace of Westminster. It is clear that we were right to demand this, given the misunderstandings, misinformation and — in some cases — complete lack of information which abounded. It is a sad indictment of the state of the democratic process when the public, writing to their elected Members of Parliament, many of whom did so with clearly laid out concerns relating specific clauses and paragraphs, are described in such a derisory manner.
The “powerful ISPs” you talk of are anything but, save for some occasional exceptions. The vast majority of ISPs who have raised concerns regarding this bill are small businesses operating on razor-thin margins. It is fair to say that these small ISPs have been almost unanimous in raising their concerns. Please do not mistake agreement with conspiracy.
On more than one occasion, it was stated that “something must be done”; that is, this bill is better than nothing. Repeatedly, illegal file-sharing was cited as a cause requiring the Government to enact legislation at, almost literally, the eleventh hour. Allow me to ask you this: if the losses to the entertainment industry in the UK from illegal file-sharing run into millions of pounds as was claimed in the House, where has this money gone? In this time of global economic downturn, with an election fast approaching which will be won or lost on the economy, surely this question is more important than ever?
The entertainment industry as a whole has seen record revenues. The period from January until October 2009 saw record singles sales within the UK, according to the British Phonographic Institute — so much so that the number of singles sold in that period was nearly three times the number sold for the whole of 2002. The statistics presented to Parliament are a simplistic measure of losses, based upon estimates of file-sharing supplied by the British Phonographic Institute (themselves extrapolated from a survey of a small group of people, and was widely debunked in June 2009). Indeed, the sectors of industry which the referenced report claims could suffer three hundred thousand job losses in the UK employ only marginally more than that to begin with. Is it really the case that legitimate sales will cease altogether, despite rising steadily for the past ten years?
To the dichotomy between “the measures will not be effective” and “the measures are draconian”, the answer is simple: the measures cannot guarantee to be free of serious unintended consequences, nor can they guarantee to not make erroneous accusations, nor do they stand much chance of affecting the habits of the serious, knowledgeable, infringer. This is compounded by — if reports are to be believed — a levy of a fee in order to appeal an accusation. What kind of due process does this claim to be? This is a law which will penalise the poor and the ignorant, and do little to prevent the real problem infringers.
Be under no illusions, however. Those who support the abolition of copyright as it stands and a “free for all” as far as content is concerned do not represent the public in general, nor do they even represent the majority of those who wrote to you. Surely if this were the case, some of you would have taken great pleasure in reading out their letters to the House as justification for action?
All of this touches on a small fraction of a large bill, and there are many aspects which Members rightly have considered, well-researched, views of. Unfortunately, it seems apparent that thanks to collusion between the front benches, their concerns and questions will only be answered after the bill has been passed into law. This is, undoubtedly, wholly unacceptable.
This government, and those who have supported the passage of this bill through wash-up, have displayed a level of contempt for the public which is rarely seen. Tonight, it became widely-known.
We ask one thing of you: if the process by which this bill is being passed into law is so contemptible, take the opportunity when it is presented to abort the process. For all the discussion of scrutiny and review after the fact, bear in mind the looming election. Who will undertake that scrutiny? What guarantee will you have that it will ever happen? Will it come close to the proper Parliamentary oversight that a bill of this magnitude surely requires?
Mo McRoberts (Web developer),
Ian Drysdale (Designer),
Andrew Durdin (Web developer),
Owen Blacker (Advisor, ORG; Head of server-side development at an ad agency),
Lilian Edwards (Professor of Internet Law),
Keir Liddle (Research Assistant in Psychology; Editor, the Twenty-First Floor),