Friday, December 04, 2009

Fightback coming on Digital Economy Bill?

The recording industry clearly thought the Digital Economy Bill, with its constitutionally outrageous copyright proposals, was a done deal. Judging from the Lords 2nd Reading debate on Wednesday, they might be right — only Lords Lucas and Whitty and Baroness Miller had much sensible to say:

Lord Lucas: We have to be careful too about the industry cloaking itself in the finery of the small, creative individual. We are not talking about the small, creative individual here, but about powerful, monopolistic industries and giving them power over citizens… The recording industry is another major beneficiary of what is being done here. That industry is not exactly known for its kindness to creative people. Many people have created pieces of music and sold them to rapacious recording companies for a couple of hundred quid, only to see those companies go on to make vast sums out of them… We also need to bear in mind that the problems now facing the industry are, to quite a large extent, of their own creation. The industry has been extremely slow to listen to the demands of its customers, and has had something of an abusive relationship with them, seeking to punish them before thinking of how to serve them better. It has taken a decade for the industry to produce sensible alternatives to illegal file-sharing, and the fact that a generation of people have become used to an illegality comes down to the industry's sluggishness.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: While understanding the wish of industry for protection from the tides of change, the Government have, in Clauses 4 to 17, laid the emphasis too much on stemming that tide and not enough in channelling it into the new business models. Can the Minister elucidate the most successful, established and emerging business models for monetising online content? Noble Lords have mentioned Spotify, micro-payments and other forms of payment for content. How will they be made easier and more convenient? What vision do the Government have for this? What studies have they done to see how free, ad-funded models might also succeed?

Lord Whitty: Surely the main way forward should be to develop legal ways in which the interests of rights holders can be met and to which consumers can relate, not engaging in sanctions that raise serious issues of consumer rights and human rights. That is happening but it is happening slowly and, as other noble Lords have said, it is happening far too late. The main focus of this debate and the main focus of this Bill should be to develop those alternative measures. Instead, the headline of this part of the Bill regrettably is on sanctions. It is on criminalising people who are unwittingly engaged in downloading and it is setting in statute and through the regulations that Ofcom will be required to produce sanctions that are not proportionate to the loss to the original rights holders. They are not necessarily the original rights holders because, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, most of the rights are actually owned by monopolistic companies, not individual creative persons.

However, today's resignation of Pure Mint Recordings CEO Anthony Hall could be the start of a fightback:
"I have enjoyed contributing to both [the BPI's] Rights [Committee] and the [IFPI's] ILC, but increasingly feel that my contributions are falling on deaf ears as an agenda has already been reached that I now consider is unmovable. As you know, I do not think the Digital Economy Bill is a sensible or well thought out piece of legislation. In my view it is being rushed through the last months of a parliament of an unpopular government and it is not legislation that I support".

Referencing clause 17 — the one that gives senior ministers the right to change copyright laws on whim — he continued: "I am particularly surprised that the record industry has chosen to endorse s.17 of the DEB, which I consider is wholly undemocratic and contrary to centuries of good practice regarding the forming of our copyright legislation. I also believe it may set a dangerous precedent going forwards (and could come back to haunt the industry)".

You can follow the progress of the legislation at Parliament's new Bill Tracker.

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