Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bill

Could everyone please make their way on over to here and give them some money? Quickly. Thanks terribly.

Now why was that necessary? Glad you asked. You, my friend, have just contributed to the 38 Degrees campaign to stop the Digital Economy Bill being shuffled through parliament before the election. They're planning to buy any number of adverts in the paper to try and let MPs know that ramming through this sort of legislation without proper scrutiny is the sort of thing people end up losing seats over.

And why should MPs lose seats over this? Once again, a very good question. Well the Bill's pretty broad ranging, but mostly people are worked up about copyright protection. In particular, people are upset by plans to disconnect users who are accused of online copyright infringement, and to try blocking foreign sites that allow it.

While this might sound like a good thing (copyright infringement being bad), it's a little more complicated than this. There are lots of good places to read about this, but for those of you who can't be bothered, the key thing to remember is that there's a lot of information on the internet, and only a very small part of it is infringing material. There are also a lot of people on the internet, and only a pretty small number of them are engaged in large scale copyright infringment. Processes designed to work out what material is infringing, and stop the people doing it, necessarily effect more than just that material and those people. If you fast-track the process for dealing with infringers, but you'll also get more people who just use the internet to pay their bills and read the news. Want to cut off Youtube-like services that people are using to share copyrighted material? Good for you, but you're also cutting them off for a whole load of people who wanted to use them for legitimate purposes.

This isn't to say that there should be no new measures for stopping copyright infringement. It's just that someone's ox is always going to get gored when you introduce new laws. As backers of the bill have pointed out, there are ways round that. Paul Carr had posted on Tech Crunch the other day that the bill wasn't as fundamentally flawed as everyone seemed to think, and that with a bit of proper democratic scrutiny it could provide good protection for copyright holders without too much collateral damage.

That's a point of view, but the key point here is could. At the moment, the bill is a pretty much a wish-list for big copyright holders. If it's going to make it into law, it needs to be a compromise between them and all the other affected parties (users, ISPs, new technology companies, free and open source software developers, civil liberties groups). Which can only happen if there's an actual debate about it. So go on.


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