Digital Economy Bill

The web has brought us many things. Most importantly it has provided us with an open platform to share knowledge and ideas. The success of Open Source and the Creative Commons, have been fuelled by the open platform we call “The Internet”.

Copyleft logo spray painted on a sand coloured wall.

Image released under the Creative Commons license by eflon on Flickr.

I like to think that the web is an extremely creative place and that the reason for this is the lack of restriction. We are free to say, share and create whatever takes our fancy. This leads to great ideas being shared across the planet in almost real time. Ideas that are life changing. Ideas that are fascinating. Ideas that are controversial. Ideas that are worth spreading.

The Digital Economy Bill is a complex beast. It is long. It is boring. And the people responsible for drafting it like it that way. Within its many pages are clauses that will have detrimental effect to the Internet as we know it. The big show stopper is this:

Section 17: Power to amend copyright provisions.

The Secretary of State may by order amend Part 1 or this Part for the purpose of preventing or reducing the infringement of copyright by means of the internet, if it appears to the Secretary of State appropriate to do so having regard to technological developments that have occurred or are likely to occur…

I am no lawyer or politician, but here is my translation: If passed, the Digital Economy Bill will allow the Secretary of State to change copyright law at any time without requiring consent from other members of parliament. These changes can be made under the guise of “reducing copyright infringement on the internet”. That is a big deal.

The Digital Economy Bill is shaped by industry insiders (record companies, copyright bodies) and has been drafted without public opinion. It exists to protect the interests of business and not people. Imagine for one second that laws were created in the same way Wikipedia articles are written. Everyone with Internet access (and everyone should have internet access) could shape the bill and provide feedback. That is a powerful idea and would be an example of true democracy. The Digital Economy Bill is step in the wrong direction. We should be embracing new technology as a way of driving change. Instead we have big industries refusing to to create new business models and putting pressure on the Government as a result. Under this bill these businesses will pressure the Government into shaping copyright law in a way that only benefits them. Ouch.

If I chose not support a new super web standard, I would probably go out of business. People would say “you should have changed”, “its competition” and “that’s business”. They are right. Based on that same logic the record companies should either change or go out of business. Either way I think the artists (the ones who actually understand creativity) would be better off.

Now is your chance to say and do something about it, we don’t have long:

On the eve of the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, we also have other important issues to address. These two issues are not completely unrelated. We need a platform like the Internet to share ideas on tackling climate change. We need to address climate change so the Internet still exists. December 2009 is our chance to make some noise. Lets not miss it.