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We want a digital economy, but is the digital economy act working? April 19, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services.
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Further to my last blog here, how things have changed in such a short space of time. On the day the Digital Economy bill was due for further debate in parliament, the general election was called. When an election is called, the parliament will only sit for a few more days in what is called the ‘wash-up’ period.

This is really just a few days of work tying up any legislative loose ends before everyone gets down to the business of election campaigning. It means that any new bills due for discussion can either be unceremoniously dropped, or pushed through parliament extremely quickly without extensive debate. The Digital Economy bill was pushed through with less than two hours of discussion. It’s now about to be better known as the Digital Economy Act 2010.

This is a real shame. It’s an act that could determine the digital future of the nation and it deserves more than this. There are many admirable parts of this act, such as the intention to deliver universal broadband Internet across the UK, but there is a lot that needed more debate before the act ended up on the statue book.

The most controversial part of the same act was around file sharing, in particular the assumption that the owner of the Internet connection is responsible for any illegal activity. There really needed to be more discussion and debate on this critical point. The UK is awash with free wifi connections at pubs, cafes, and train stations. Are those connection owners really going to accept liability if the connection users break the law, or will we see a mass switch-off as public Internet becomes impossible to locate due to a fear of this new act?

Because of this new act, the government is now able to block websites, cut off users, and fine connection owners for activity they may not have been responsible for. Surely this act needs further debate and refinement?

Digital Economy bill – who is right on copyright? April 6, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government.
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The House of Lords have approved the Digital Economy Bill. The second reading in the Commons is due to take place today.

That’s going to be when the real debate kicks off in earnest. And this is a controversial government bill that affects every consumer of music, art, film, or culture. The telecoms giants are lining up on one side of the argument with the creative industries on the other.

The most contentious aspects of the bill are around the intertwining of copyright owners and Internet connections. The bill is proposing that where a copyright owner complains that their material is being made freely available on an unauthorised basis and therefore contrary to their right, it is then the responsibility of the ISP to close the Internet connection of the organisation or person offering the offending material. Rights holders will be going to court seeking injunctions to block websites.

But many in the industry feel this is the old world of copyright smashing into the new world of online media. In a world of peer-to-peer connections it is very difficult to determine exactly where copyright material resides, so how can a website be blocked by a court injunction? The government is already seeing an extensive online reaction, with people using the online social networks to organise real petitions and protests.

Will they push the bill through as it stands or do the protestors have a clearer vision of the digital future for Britain, and the creative community?