Concerning the Digital economy Act

13 July 2011

I wrote to Theresa May a couple of months ago requesting that she support the Early Day Motion 1913. which calls for the government to reconsider the Digital Economy Act and its many proposed website blocking schemes, and for an examination of these matters by the appropriate Parliamentary Select Committee. Here is her responce.

Dear Mr Ward,

Thank you for contacting Theresa May about web blocking and EDM 1913. I am sure she will appreciate your concerns on this matter.

As you may be aware, Members of the Government do not, by convention, sign any Early Day Motions, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility. However, digital copyright infringement is a big problem in the UK and poses a very real threat to Britain’s hugely successful creative industries. Aside from ethical concerns, it undermines creative expression and has the potential to seriously affect British jobs and the country’s economic recovery.

Illegal file-sharing costs the industry £400m a year. To help combat this problem, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked Ofcom to review whether website blocking measures are workable. This review follows on from the public responses to the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘Your Freedom’ consultation which was designed to give people a chance to tell Government which laws and regulations they think should be amended or revoked.

I know Mr Hunt and his departmental colleagues are aware of the Special Rapporteur’s report. Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has confirmed that the Government agrees with the individual right to free and uncensored access to the internet and that states should only interfere in exceptional circumstances. The Government also agrees that the degree of interference should be proportionate to the risks involved. Mr Vaizey has stated that such measures should not be adopted lightly and that the Government will only do so if convinced that it is appropriate, proportionate, in accordance with international legal obligations and effective on the basis of evidence in the future.

The Government has responded to the Human Rights Council, welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s report and supporting the general thrust of his conclusions and recommendations. The Government will continue to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Government is now considering the Ofcom review before deciding on the best way forward.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Bennett

Case Worker
Office of the Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Tel: 0207 219 1013

And here is my response back to Mr Bennett

Ian Bennett

Where to start in your very misguided response.

Firstly the financial harm that you quote is a recording industry created value, that has been shown numerous times to be seriously flawed in the assumptions and methodology of calculation.

Secondly there is the huge harm to our cultural heritage in the current overly restrictive copyright. I would like you to consider the following points:

1. The lack of access to works that are no longer economically feasible to offer for sale, but are still in copyright. There a huge body of work that is not accessible to anyone, we are relying on these media companies to keep and preserve our cultural heritage in these recordings and films.

2, The reach of copyright in the UK means that almost every citizen will have technically infringed copyright several times per day. A law that is routinely broken in this manner can only be selectively enforced, and thus creating lack of credibility in the law.

3. The industry says that this is harming artists, but there is a huge swathe of artists who are bypassing the media industries and using alternative distribution models, and licenses such as creative commons, and doing very nicely from this. The media companies are more interested in capitalizing their back catalog than funding artists.

4. The enforcement of Copyright by the big media companies is more about preserving their existing business model. These companies have refused to adapt to the internet and have stifled every attempt by innovative companies in this area. The government is overly influenced by these companies and has been complicit in driving their agenda. The government should peruse and agenda of what is best for Britain even if that means that some companies that fail to adapt go out of business.

5. The government has failed to listen to groups advocating change, such as the Open Rights Group, and others.

6. Website blocking will not work, and will cause more harm to the internet and free speech that it will help enforce copyright.

7. Access to the internet is becoming a fundamental right, disconnection must not be used as a tool of compliance.

8. The use of a extra judicial form of collective punishment is not a proportionate response to the breaking of the contractual conditions of copyright. That this is even being considered is astounding!

I thank you for your response but you and the government have a long way to go to even understand the problem let alone be proposing solutions.

Kind Regards

Stuart Ward