Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lord Whitty misses the point



In the House of Lords debate on the Digital Economy Bill Lord Whitty objects to the powers offered under the new legislation for rights owners to "go after" ISP's and subscribers if they are involved in copyright theft & abuse. He talks about human rights - strange for a man who was very strongly in favour of ID cards and voted accordingly.

He tries to argue that the reason that sites like Spotify, Justin.tv, Ustream, Twitter and YouTube don't make any money for rights owners is that "single figure % points" of the public have heard of them........according to research produced by Consumer Focus an organisation he is involved with. One can only wonder which dark corner of the world his repondents came from and how selective the questioning was. See highlighted paragraph below. Presumably his researchers took a trip to Eastbourne to talk to the pensioners.

His point about his respondent group not understanding Copyright Law does not surprise anyone - but that does not mean that it is OK to rip copyright off - ignorance of the law is no defence. Perhaps if the question had been "Is it OK to steal things ?" the reponses would have been different.

The reality is that the internet is seen by the public as a free medium and unless pretty strong measures are put in place to protect rights owners IP the creative industries will be severely damaged. ISP's need to be squarely in the frame if they turn a blind eye to persistent offenders.

The good news is that the bill seems to have general support.


An extract from Lord Whitty's comments are below from earlier this week.

"Unfortunately, in terms of the balance of debate within this House, we seem to have a near unanimous position in support of the government proposals. Apart from the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, myself and one or two others who have appeared maverick in this debate, this House seems to have accepted the wisdom of going through a whole range of changes in our approach both to the law and to the way in which our digital media operate. We have imposed police powers on ISPs which are reluctant to accept them. We have threatened several millions of our citizens with exclusion from the internet by administrative decree, with dubious means of identifying who was actually the perpetrator of the alleged infringement. We have seen the Government, putatively this House and other political parties backing protectionism rather than competition and innovation, moving towards an exclusion of people from digital access rather than the inclusion that the rest of the Bill-which I fully support-provides. It has landed us with a pretty much unenforceable law that will not get a penny back to the rights owners whom the legislation was intended to support.

Out there, however, there is no unanimity at all. There is a very widespread opposition to the Bill from individuals who feel threatened, from parents who are concerned that measures will be taken against them because of their children's use of the internet and from employers who are worried about the same thing in relation to their staff. Surveys conducted by my organisation, Consumer Focus, indicate that 75 per cent of the population do not understand what is lawful and unlawful in this context and that a rather higher proportion, when told what is lawful and unlawful, do not support those laws.

There are alternative ways of moving to a different system of accessing copyright material on the internet. Lawful systems of file-sharing exist in the music industry and elsewhere; it is just that they have a very low recognition by the public. The survey that we conducted showed that, of the 20 such systems that are or have been in operation, none has received an awareness level above single figures in percentage terms. Yet, ultimately, at various points in this debate, we have all agreed that a move to lawful systems of file-sharing is the aim of this measure.