There is a consultation ongoing which sets out the government’s plans for tackling unlawful filesharing. The most recent statement updates this with further proposals and extends the deadline until 29 September.
With typical Whitehall understatement, I think we can say there has been a lively reaction to the announcement on Tuesday about further proposals to tackle unlawful peer-to-peer filesharing. We thought it was worth countering a few of the more strident accusations against the Government over the past couple of days, and have picked out some below. We’re sure this won’t end the argument, but here are six popular arguments against the policy, with a short reply each time.
1. You’ve abandoned Digital Britain
It would be nice if the policies we set out in the Digital Britain Report were so widely accepted that people considered them immutable, but this certainly isn’t true.
We were consulting on the package set out in Digital Britain and have added further proposals as the result of further consideration. The core proposals – notification of those who seem to be breaching copyright, with a sanction of technical measures if that is not working, remain in place.
2. This is all about David Geffen and the music industry influencing the debate.
No discussion took place with David Geffen about Digital Britain. Peter Mandelson has said he doesn’t even think the issue is on Geffen’s radar.
As for other industry bodies, of course the Business Secretary meets and listens to businesses all the time. But these proposals come after a great deal of discussion and analysis – as we listened to people’s views and considered the consultation responses that we’ve already received, it simply became clear to us that we needed to add more ideas to the discussion for people to consider. That is what we did on Tuesday.
3. You’re criminalising a generation of people
4. People like filesharing and we should not be trying to turn back the clock.
The Government agrees with this. Enforcement is not enough. Legitimate online music products need to become available – and many are – but if unlawful sharing is widespread it is difficult to see how they can really take hold. It’s not about going back to the days of expensive CDs.
5. It’s all illegal under European law
We believe what we are doing complies with national and EU law but obviously if the law in Europe changes, then we will need to make sure what we do is compliant. Amendment 138 has been mentioned a lot, but in fact it has not been adopted (by the EC); although it is set for conciliation in the autumn.
6. The law can’t be enforced
The identification process will need to be as robust as possible and we expect the lessons from the MOU to help develop this. However we realise that it is possible for mistakes to occur or for people to have their wireless connection hi-jacked. We will set up an appeals mechanism so that the consumer has an easy appeals route at each stage.
For technical measures (including possible account suspension), it is even more important to have an independent quick and easy route of appeal given the impact imposing such measures might have. We will be paying close attention to developments in Brussels but at the moment we envisage a tribunal system to which a consumer would have recourse before imposition of any technical measure.
*Updated to correct earlier error – thanks to Crosbie Fitch for the comment.
As you have no doubt seen by now, ministers are announcing today an update of their thinking on the issue of peer to peer filesharing.
In essence this is a strengthening of the same procedures for letter-writing and warning of those who seem to be illicitly sharing files, but with the tougher ultimate penalty of suspension of service and retaining the ability for ministers to decide when ‘technical measures’ (ie enforcement through the broadband service of the offender) can be introduced. The overall objective of providing a legitimate framework for dissemination of content in a way consumers want and at the right price remains firmly in place.
This has been one of the most difficult issues to navigate, and we’re not at the end of the process yet (the consultation is still open and has been extended). We’ll undoubtedly see more debate as we put the Bill through Parliament. In the mean time, we’re happy to hear reactions…
Looking at the comments overnight (for which huge thanks), I was reminded of a post way back in March in which I asked how people would pay for NGA rollout. This is of course the most argued topic on this modest blog, although despite all the comments to the contrary, I would argue questions about content, radio, TV, copyright, skills, inclusion, innovation, news, mobile, security etc etc remain part of the Digital Britain debate!
Anyway, since the heady days of March when policy was being developed, we set out in the Digital Britain Report how we intend to support NGA deployment by:
- introducing a 50p per month supplement on fixed lines to raise something like £150-£175m per year.
- invite tenders for next generation services to the ‘final third’ of the country on a reverse auction basis.
- giving Ofcom a new primary duty to promote investment.
- supporting local networks.
There has been a bit of speculation about whether all this will happen in a general election year, although arguably that could be said about any of the governing party’s intentions for the coming year. The DBR said the fund would be established in 2010 and that remains the plan. The business of government is never quick enough for some, but always too rushed and hasty for others. To get a new fund up and running just takes time and there are various administrative hoops to get through. That is what we are working on now.
I’ve read various comments about how the Government should just ‘get on with it’ and somehow ’sort out’ BT and Ofcom. I’m not really sure what this means – nationalisation? – but personally I would argue a commitment to spending very significant amounts of money on NGA is a) significant and b) massive progress towards getting NGA into rural areas. I await to be told, yet again, that I ‘just don’t get it’…
Finally, the issue of taxation has been around for some time. There are a couple of things to say here. One is that the issue isn’t quite as straightforward as it might appear due to the slightly arcane means by which BT’s estate is valued and rates are applied, so it’s not as simle as passing a law saying ‘no rates on new fibre’. The second is that a tax break doesn’t necessarily deliver the investment unless the business case becomes absolutely overwhelming, and at the moment it is still largely unproven. But it might be something we come back to, so thanks to those of you who have mentioned it.
During the weekend, a few stories appeared following meetings Stephen Timms had with some of the national broadsheets last week. Of course, newspapers tend to follow angles depending on their readership or general editorial drift, so you can end up with four different articles based on very similar conversations. And there’s nothing wrong with that – one of the strengths of a democracy, you might argue.
One point that came up in one of the interviews was about the future of the press itself. What is the government’s policy towards changes in media markets? In the Digital Britain Report we set out some of our decisions on the merger regime for local newspapers, but arguably the issue goes much wider and the real story is about a downward trend in the profitability of newspapers as a business.
In one way, this is as digital as you get. Saving the ‘dead tree’ news seems to go against the grain of Digital Britain. But it’s not so much the smudgy ink that people think is valuable, as the journalism that it passes on, and here is where the concern arises.
Attitudes towards newspapers (which are usually august, corporate establishments – very much part of the Establishment in some cases) can be pretty stark. Bloggers in particular can seem to relish the difficulties the print titles are having, and modestly put themselves forward as the future.But to my mind it’s a bit more complicated than that. As much as some bloggers jeer at the press, they seem to relish being talked about in the press. A story which gets picked up by the mainstream seems to gather some extra legitimacy.
And, arguably, the medium works best when it is the story: in other words, people on Twitter tend to talk an awful lot about twittering and how important it is. Even in the recent Welovethenhs affair, much of the story was about Twitter itself as an organising tool. So for blogging and social media to truly replace newspapers, maybe the awesomeness of how the news is delivered needs to slip into the background a bit compared to what the actual news really is. Maybe it never will.
All of which poses some interesting questions. If five national newspapers announced tomorrow that they would be giving up and going out of business, should the Government care? Should it do anything about it, and the trends which lead us that way? And how do we square that with the drive to digital?