Digital Economy Bill in the UK a totalitarian nightmare?


The fight to secure copyrights on the internet will always be an ongoing one, but the most recent dilemma is that being faced in the UK with the proposed Digital Economy Bill that has just recently seen a number of amendments that are cause for concern (to say the least).

The bill was previously under fire for offering unlimited power when dealing with copyright infringement on the internet – without any future need for consent of Parliament.  Thankfully, this aspect of the bill has been voted down; but only to be replaced by amendments which are of equal concern.

The amendments deal with two things specifically.  Firstly, the ability for the high court to issue an injunction against websites that host a large amount of copyrighted material (of which there is no better example than the ever-popular YouTube); and secondly, a call for the banning of private web-lockers that allow storage and sharing of files too large to send via email.

The two articles from the Guardian website that I have linked to above give a good overview of what is occurring here, and why we should be concerned, so I won’t go into too much more detail about this new assault on our civil liberties.  However, it is worth repeating the quote from Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group; who rightly states that: “This would open the door to a massive imbalance of power in favour of large copyright holding companies. Individuals and small businesses would be open to massive ‘copyright attacks’ that could shut them down, just by the threat of action”.

This is the problem, that these laws will be abused just as they have in the past through gross exploitation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States of America.   Countless false take-down notices have been filed in the name of the DMCA, and the problem is that they work.  Sites and content gets taken down or restricted by hosting companies and service providers before any attempt to discover whether or not the claim is a valid one – it is a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ system, and for the most part there aren’t many of us that can afford to be proven innocent.  For a more thorough overview of the legal implications of this bill as currently worded, I highly recommend this post by Lilian Edwards.

Why should we really be concerned?  Because power is being handed over to large multi-national corporations, destroying the ability for individuals and smaller companies to flourish in the online environment.  Not only this, but other amendments are attacking our rights to privacy on the internet under the guise that we might be using such privacy for copyright infringement – I’m sorry, but does this sound completely absurd to anybody else?

I fear that what is occurring here is a common problem when it comes to legislation regarding internet technology – the people passing the bills don’t have any real idea what they are doing.  They are ignorant of the issues involved and are basing their decisions on the opinions of lobby groups and vested interests coming from the very industries these laws will benefit.  There is little regard for alternative voices and opposition; and the best we get is one evil offered up as a solution against another evil.  Well guess what?  They’re both still evil.

The real issue here is that these laws are so ridiculously all-encompassing that they cannot possibly be upheld, which begs the question why they should be implemented in the first place.  The other problem is that the manner in which these laws will likely be used, based on how such things have happened in the past, means that they will often be counter to concepts such as liberty and democracy.  The internet is one of the few true bastions of these two ideals – and you better believe that items such as the Digital Economy Bill are an attempt to take away these sanctuaries of free human expression.  If not now, they will be used as such at some point in the future upon implementation.

In the guise of protecting episodes of television sitcoms or the latest manufactured pop music money-spinner we are at risk of steering society towards totalitarianism – but not just of the fascist government kind.  This form of totalitarianism comes from the multi-nationals, the conglomerate corporations that can only exist because we as a global society have become dependant upon them.  Democratic government – true representation of the people – is being subverted through ignorance and political bullying, and all in the name of the almighty dollar.

I’m not advocating the right to infringe copyright, don’t get me wrong.  What I am advocating is that we don’t walk blindly towards totalitarianism purely for the sake of corporate profit – for what else is that but a Faustian deal with the devil that will, if we are not diligent, undermine the very freedoms and civil liberties that we have fought for over millennia.  We already have in place laws and capabilities to fight against copyright infringement – so use them rather than implementing ludicrously wide-reaching and undemocratic new systems that offer little more than the opportunity to chip away at our civil liberties and bully us into submission.


One Response to Digital Economy Bill in the UK a totalitarian nightmare?

  1. andrew_curry says:

    Of course, no one's in favour of infringing copyright, but the related problem is that the same interests which are pushing through the Digital Economy Bill (and the ACTA negotiations, where copyright gets bundled into a completely different set of discussions on counterfeiting) have already extended our copyright terms beyond what represents a reasonable balance between private interests and the public interest. This is the case even though the governments's own Gowers report – scarcely a hotbed of digital radicalism – found that current copyright provision was more than enough to protect the interests of rights-holders.

    The other issue here is that the public interest is under-represented, because the arguments about re-use creating much of the richness of culture are complex, whereas arguments about 'theft' and language about 'piracy' are not. Like George Lakoff said: metaphors matter. We need better metaphors, quickly.

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