A Skinny Take: The Digital Economy Act
After only two hours of debate, a new Act was passed in parliament last week that will grant the government powers to suspend Internet connections and block websites associated with activity that infringes copyright. The Digital Economy Act, which was sponsored by Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills Lord Mandelson, was rubber-stamped in the House of Commons by a majority vote of 189 to 47 even after more than 20,000 letters of objection were submitted to MPs by constituents participating in a nationwide campaign run by the website 38degrees.
The Act will allow copyright holders (record labels, film distributers) to, having identified a user allegedly sharing files illegally, send a “copyright infringement report” to that user’s Internet Service Provider (such as Virgin, BT, TalkTalk). The provider will then be obligated by law to send a notice – which may in some cases include a fine – within a month to the user, “providing evidence and information about appeals and legal advice”.
Problematically however, there are more holes in the Act than there are in Swiss cheese. As according to Andrew Heaney, the director of regulation at TalkTalk “copyright holders can link piracy to IP addresses, and these can be matched to a household's Internet account. But there could be tens of people using an IP address – members of your family, visitors, neighbours, or somebody more unscrupulous."
Having been rushed through in the so called “wash-up” period after the General Election was announced, the Act – which has potential consequences for every one of the 18.3m households in the UK with access to the Internet – required long, rigorous and national debate; but instead, pandering to the will of corporate elites, our democratically elected representatives again behaved with a dumbfounding lack of regard for the basic principles of democracy, providing us with yet another example of what the Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto described more than 100 years ago as the “façade of democracy”.
We should have seen it coming. In August last year Lord Mandelson was captured on camera in Corfu with record executive, multi-billionaire and vocal anti-piracy campaigner David Geffen. The two dined with members of the Rothschild banking dynasty at the family’s holiday villa, and days later Mandelson announced a crackdown on file-sharing in the Digital Britain report. This is more than mere coincidence.
The general election looms but democracy crumbles, as it is money, not votes that sways government agendas. The will of the majority no longer prevails – and it is a tragic irony that the problem with the current predicament is that come 6 May, no matter who you vote for, the government will still get in.
See more of Ryan's work at http://www.rjgallagher.co.uk/