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Digital Economy Bill

April 2010


I’m not, generally, much of a supporter of the notion of “Human Rights” being written down and passed into law by politicians; I think that it can lead to absurd anomalies and the decay of common sense.  I am much happier with the notion that the courts can “discover” what our natural rights are, from time to time, and apply them.

However, every so often this legislation comes in handy, and the current muddle our government has landed itself in over the Digital Economy Bill is one such moment.

You may not have heard of the Digital Economy Bill, but it affects you if you use the internet.  It has been created to allow the owners of copyright – especially music, films and TV programmes – to arrange for you to be removed from the internet if they believe that your connection has been used to download their stuff without paying for it.

However, it is so vague in its proposals, and the criteria for disconnection are so indistinct, that the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights (I wasn’t aware of them before now) has declared that it is impossible to decide if the Bill breaches Human Rights or not.  If they are right, I hope it is a good enough reason to stop the law being enacted.

The idea of the Bill is mainly to stop you using what is called “file sharing”.  This is when you connect up to other people’s computers via the internet (so they could be anywhere in the world) and copy such music, films, or anything else they have in their memory and care to make available to the network.  And vice versa.

It’s easy for your ISP to spot this happening, and the plan is that the ISP’s will be forced to snitch to the copyright owners, who can then ask the ISP to issue warnings, and if that doesn’t work, cut the user off completely.

The Parliamentary Committee says that is possible that disconnection would breach the users’ rights to respect for correspondence and freedom of expression.  They are also concerned at the Bill’s very wide powers, and the huge potential for them to be applied disproportionately, just as we have seen with recent anti-terrorism legislation.

I’m strongly against this bill in any event, and if it takes some hazy human rights arguments to defeat it, I’m with them.  The huge flaw in the proposed law, which has already been through the Committee stage at the House of Lords, is that it attacks the owner of the pipeline through which the material flows, not necessarily the person who allegedly infringed the copyright. 

For example, if your child or grandchild, or any guest, comes to stay and uses his laptop on your connection to use file sharing, it is you who is at risk, not them.

It would be like having your phone cut off if someone else uses it to commit a crime.  Ridiculous.

What is so silly is that the solution is obvious.

First, the market solution: holders of copyright should stop whining and reduce their prices to a level where it is not worth bothering to make copies of pirated version of the material, which is often of dodgy quality anyway.  They’d find they’d make a fortune, I bet, because we’d all use it.

Second, the technical solution:  ISP’s should offer the option of blocking file sharing technology on your line if requested.  It’s not difficult, and would resolve the problem.  And not a breached Human Right in sight. 


Google in China

Last month I wrote about the mixture of hubris and sour grapes that led Google to threaten to pull out of China, mainly because they did not like having to obey the local censorship laws.  I pointed out that if they pulled out now, in those circumstances, they would never be allowed back. 

There was a furious reaction from the Chinese people at being told how to run their country by outsiders, and no reaction at all from the Chinese authorities to the dread thought of losing Google, so Google has suddenly climbed down of it’s high horse and announced it will hang around there for a couple more years, “to find a way to work within the system to bring information to the people”.  Welcome to the real world of international commerce, chaps.