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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24 Responses to “Special interests have captured the copyright debate”

  1. Katie S

    RT @glynmoody: Special interests have captured the copyright debate – http://bit.ly/bkQpjv nice piece from Jim Killock #copyright #digec …

  2. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mydavidcameron: Special interests have captured the copyright debate (via @leftfootfwd) http://bit.ly/ci305P

  3. Andrew Whitehouse

    Writing to my MP about the Digital Ecomony Bill http://bit.ly/c1poSt – yet another piece of flawed legislation from this Government

  4. Andrew Whitehouse

    Writing to my MP about the Digital Economy Bill http://bit.ly/c1poSt – yet another piece of flawed legislation from this Government

  5. Open Rights Group

    RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate argues @jimkillock http://bit.ly/bnlCMC

  6. Jamie Dowling

    RT @OpenRightsGroup: RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate argues @jimkillock http://bit.ly/bnlCMC

  7. Catherine

    RT @openrightsgroup: RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate argues @jimkillock http://bit.ly/bnlCMC

  8. Dan Bull

    RT @openrightsgroup: RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate argues @jimkillock http://bit.ly/bnlCMC

  9. Russell Cavanagh

    RT @openrightsgroup: RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate argues @jimkillock http://bit.ly/bnlCMC

  10. Mr. Sensible

    I can well understand the argument, but if not disconnection, then what?

    Clearly fines on their own do not work.

  11. Jim Killock

    Hi Mr Sensible; why wouldn’t fines work? Nobody’s tried that. In fact, letter writing works extremely well. And best of all, services people like. I bet BBC iPlayer and on-demand TV have massively cut illicit TV downloads. Many people think the same of Spotify, and that P2P is declining. There’s plenty of answers when you look around.

  12. BekiT

    If you look at the bill, section 13 states :

    “(3) A “technical measure” is a measure that:
    (a) limits the speed or other capacity of the service provided to a subscriber;
    (b) prevents a subscriber from using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use;
    (c) suspends the service provided to a subscriber; or
    (d) limits the service provided to a subscriber in another way.”

    Where do you get disconnections from that? It says “suspend” and “limit” the connection, not disconnect. I think you’re creating irrational fears here and missing the point. Reducing speeds is much more appealing for ISPs, because they keep the customer but limit the high bandwidth users. I suggest that could reduce the overall cost of delivering the service. So, you download a load of music, someone objects, the ISP starts the procedure, sends you a letter, then if you carry on they give you a further warning, then you get limitations on access or a fine. Many ISPs already have a policy like this to reduce costs of carrying high bandwidth users. People will still be able to get online, they’ll just be back to “56k” days. No human rights violated, industry largely happy – not the dark tale of human rights abuse you allege.

    If we lose the creative sector we’re bankrupt – the revenue from the changes in entertainment is moving out of our economy and into countries that have a found ways of making revenue from these changes. (For example, Germany allows Rapidshare, then sues the company to take the money they’ve removed from our economy).

    These are (mostly) rational policies aimed at an increasing threat to our economic development. They’re not perfect (clause 17) and they’re clearly not fully formed, but few bills are before Parliamentary debate, or even Lords report stage; you seem to be alarmist regarding what could be, rather than focussing on what is. Not dealing with these threats will make us much less competitive and push more of our economy into the black market. It drives industry away from this island and towards countries that offer better protection and clearer legal positions than we currently have. The measures do include letters, as you suggest, see section 4 of the draft bill. I don’t think anyone want to see people disconnected for downloading a few songs, but that isn’t what the bill says; that’s what you’ve said with your bizarre fictional narrative. How does limiting net speed infringe human rights? It just makes it harder to download films and music, what else requires connection speeds over 1Mb?

    Also, amendments that have been tabled all water down the plan and make it more acceptable to human rights groups. Among the changes were shifts to fines. Seeing as they’ve adopted both of your ideas, and the threats you state are not in the bill, can we take it you now fully support this legislation?

    What price will you pay? Andrew Orlowski’s negative takes on the bill are much more convincing, realistic and pragmatic; as I said, the Lords report hasn’t been delivered yet, let’s see what we’re meant to be scared of first before getting too worked up about it.

    References :
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldbills/001/10001.i-ii.html
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/23/mandybill_petition/
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/24/mandybill_tribunal_tweaks/

  13. MIchael Biddulph

    RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate http://bit.ly/ci305P

  14. CS Clark

    BekiT’s comment above really should be promoted to counterpiece.

    It beats me why the OP thinks that being snide over Lily Allen’s musical abilities – I’ll give you Simon Cowell though – and insinuating that her opinions were not her own (‘lined up’? honestly) makes the argument stronger. Come to think of it, it’s also confusing me why it is thought in any case that unilaterally declaring one position progressive is persuasive.

    Otherwise, precious little evidence for this blog.

  15. Fab 5: Thursday 25 February 2010 | The Young Fabians Blog

    […] Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group argues on Left Foot Forward that the copyright debate has been captured by special interests. […]

  16. Richard

    @BekiT

    “Where do you get disconnections from that? It says ‘suspend’ and ‘limit’ the connection, not disconnect.”

    What is the difference between suspension and disconnection? Can you connect to the Internet on an account that has been suspended? No. So are you disconnected? Yes.

    The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to decide to suspend accounts for any length of time, including indefinitely. Are you arguing that this is a proportionate response to copyright infringement? Even when the suspension targets the account-holder and others who rely on that connection rather than the infringer directly? Even when that account-holder could be a library, a coffee shop, a hotel or a university?

    This Bill does nothing to support creative business in the digital era. It’s a protectionist tool to prop up obsolete analogue business-models.

  17. Tom

    @BekiT – you’re failure to grasp the significance of this billis astounding. As an IT professional I have every reason for believing in proper structure and legislation in my chosen industry. HOWEVER, it doesn’t matter what the billsays it MIGHT do or RECOMMENDS – what really, really matters to us a society is that we do not allow vested interests to circumvent our rights, no matter what the justification. This is a very slippery slope. Your attitude appears to be that it doesn’t matter that commercial forces have lobbied certain elements of whitehall into pushing this bill through because the it’s only an internet disconnection at stake, and that may not happen anyway. That is foolhardy and naive. This is the part of a new approach to dealing with the difficult questions raised by the new age of telecommunications and internet usage i.e. when faced with a massively diverse and amorphous body of interconnected individuals we’d rather restrict their basic rights to make it easier on our policy making, than find new more technical ways to prevent fraud, copyright infringement etc. Certain rights are inalienable, that isn’t always easy, but is absolutely necessary, particularly in an age where may bureaucratic systems are now maintained by employing some form of automation. It would be terrible to live in a world of reduced basic rights and corporate automation, surely you can see that? Stop backing the big boys of commerce and come and join the side of the truth.

  18. BekiT

    Richard,

    Firstly, the difference between suspending an account and disconnection is that suspending is temporary (24 hours was suggested) – disconnection is permanent. Would you rather be disconnected or suspended? I think on Mondays publication of the Lords report this bit will probably be missing entirely from the bill. As I said, fines and limited access seem to be the preferred stick, I think the Lords report will reflect that and all of your fear will be wasted.

    “Are you arguing that this is a proportionate response to copyright infringement? ”

    No, you’re arguing against it. Nobody at all is arguing that is a proportionate response – you just made that up.

    “The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to decide to suspend accounts for any length of time, including indefinitely.”

    Show me the passage that you got this idea from. This would only be possible if he changed the rules via Clause 17, or used a previous clause to redefine one of the terms – again, will nearly certainly be missing on Monday. I suggest you look at the tabled amendments and the Joint Committee On Human Rights report on the bill (which prompted those amendments). I don’t want clause 17, nobody does. It will obviously never make the final bill because both main opposition parties have said they’d vote against it, so you’re working yourself up about nothing, again. You’re acting hysterically regarding something that hasn’t happened, and isn’t going to happen. Your points have all been raise during the procedure and amendments have been tabled, I think when the Lords report it’ll hopefully categorically deal with your paranoia on this issue.

    The bill makes an attempt to protect IP holders in the digital age. That isn’t “nothing”, it’s a very valuable tool to our economy and the progress of our country. Do you want further recession and job losses?! Other countries have a plan, we don’t – we’re losing out because of it.

    Tell me, what is the differences between a “creative business in the digital era” and “analogue business-models” exactly? The digital economy works on age-old principles of business, there is simply nothing new in this model, except the delivery mechanism – which up until now has been easy to use to duplicate the product. Spotify, P2P, iTunes, etc, are all analogous to previous models and work in the exact same way and with the same concepts as “analogue business-models”…whatever that really means.

    Refs:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200910/jtselect/jtrights/44/44.pdf

  19. BekiT

    Tom

    I have grasped the significance of it. I’ve watched people lobby on both sides of this debate. Ironically, the bigger business (the ISPs) are opposed to this legislation, it’s the smaller businesses, the record companies and media firms that argue for it.

    “It would be terrible to live in a world of reduced basic rights and corporate automation, surely you can see that?”

    Of course it would, what human rights are being infringed by slowing your internet speed down? Everything you’ve written seems to be on what you think the bill says, not what it says today, and certainly not based on what it’ll say after the Lords report is published on Monday. But that doesn’t matter, but you won’t of read either and you’ll still believe that is what it says.

    “Stop backing the big boys of commerce and come and join the side of the truth.”

    I’m not backing the “big boys” – you are. I’m backing the one man show’s all over this nation that create music, art, film, applications, games, literature, architecture and any other form of digital medium. You’re backing the big boys – the huge telecommunications behemoths that profit from stealing from the content creators that want to keep the status quo. Most digital content is not made by media giants, it’s made by one-man operations, so whose side are you on? BT? Sky? Pipex? Or UK independent music labels that have made us one of the most respected countries in the world for music like Domino, WARP, Ninja Tunes, Tru Thoughts, etc. Once we’ve lost it all, we’ll never get it back.

  20. Jim Killock

    @BeKit We are not here to argue about copyright, which we support, or artists making profits, which we support.

    On the length of time people’s account may be disconnected (or ‘suspended’ if you prefer) BIS officials this week confirmed to the Guardian that this would be set by the Secretary of State.

  21. BekiT

    Jim,

    The very article you point to clarifies that suspension means temporary suspension, not disconnection as you persist in asserting. If you understand this to be the case, why do you use such dramatic language? “Draconian”, “disconnection”, “innocent people will be punished” – have you ever thought to find out what the law of Draco was like?

    Over the next week, this discussion and the fabric of the issue will change. I think everyone’s getting a bit too worked up about something that hasn’t even got out of the Lords yet, and is being altered to address many of the concerns you have, and allegedly will adopt your ideas. What do you want? I just don’t understand.

  22. Jim Killock

    We want recognition that if accounts are disconnected – or as you prefer “account suspension” takes place – that this will damage people’s lives in a way that is not warranted. It is clear that innocent people will be punished if this takes place. Even assuming the account holder is the infringer, their partner, their children, any relatives or friends living their are likely innocent and also punished. This isn’t hard to understand, it is plain and obvious, and uncontested even by the government. Their only attempt to assuage us is to say that disconnection isn’t a severe penalty (right) and that it is the account holder’s whole responsibility what happens to their account (ie, if their children’s education is damaged, well that’s the fault of the person being irresponsible).

    Given that all this could be avoided by taking prior court action, and using fines as a punishment, we are left with the distinct impression that disconnection is being used a symbolic punishment, rather than anything judged on its appropriateness and proportionality.

  23. Alyster Gynn

    RT @openrightsgroup: RT @leftfootfwd: Special interests have captured the copyright debate argues @jimkillock http://bit.ly/bnlCMC

  24. Links 2/3/2010: Linux-2.6.33-libre is Released | Boycott Novell

    […] Special interests have captured the copyright debate 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. […]

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