Special interests have captured the copyright debate

Our guest writer is Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group (@jimkillock)

Progressive politics stands for justice and understanding, and facing up to corporate special interests to defend the public good. Yet somehow those corporate special interests have captured the debate on copyright enforcement and the future of the internet.

A huge lobby – Labour’s Tom Watson MP reports at least 100 full time employees – is being employed to campaign for disconnection of internet accounts when copyright infringement may have taken place.

There will be no need for a court hearing. Whole families, businesses, schools or community groups disconnected for the actions of one person. The government admits that innocent people will be punished. They understand this fully, because that’s the nature of the evidence, as it can only pinpoint the internet connection (ie, the household) not the person doing the infringing.

Civil liberties groups from the Open Rights Group, to which I belong, to Liberty and Consumer Focus, are saying very clearly: disconnection would be a very severe punishment in the internet age. Under human rights law, punishments are meant to fit the crime, and not intrude into other parts of people’s lives more than necessary. That’s why fines are such a common punishment. Lords, including Labour’s Larry Whitty, chair of Consumer Focus, made these points very powerfully in their debates.

Industry’s response has been hysterical. From Lily Allen to Simon Cowell, supposed gems of cultural achievement have been lined up to cry out that the industry will die and ‘something must be done’. Fine. But not at the expense of our basic human rights. Not at the expense of innocent people’s education, work and political freedoms.

Industry’s problems isn’t the point. We’re talking about punishments here, and what is appropriate when someone infringes. This isn’t a choice between industry’s doom and imposing disconnection: the choice is between appropriate punishments and imposing disconnection.

The progressive view is clear: whatever it takes to enforce copyrights or change an industry, that cannot be at the expense of our human rights. The duty of the progressive now is to make this clear: a Labour government committed to a progressive agenda should never have signed up to such draconian proposals. And with strong voices opposed within Labour’s ranks, it isn’t too late for a change of heart.

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