The Digital Economy Bill – Letter to Emily Thornberry, MP

Dear Emily Thornberry,

As you know, as Chairman of the UK Podcasters Association, I worked in 2006/7 to prevent badly formed WIPO television regulations from impacting negatively upon UK internet culture and business.

The Digital Economy Bill now passing through parliament is every bit as bad. I am currently deeply concerned that as parliament dissolves, this bill will not be debated and will end its days in the “wash up” period, being hastened into law.

There are many reasons why this bill needs proper consideration. Of particular concern to me are the negative impact of closing down of open WiFi networks, which allow many people who cannot afford expensive mobile data to work and access leisure information on the go, the disconnection of internet on suspicion of illegal activity, and the blocking of sites such as YouTube because of supposed copyright infringement.

The disconnection proposals are the worst kind of legislation. With progressive countries such as Finland now making internet access a human right, internet cut off is appallingly draconian. What is proposed does not require anything like the level of proof which a court would demand, merely the sending of letters based upon suspicion – a very slippery slope indeed.

Regarding the blocking of websites: aside from the many cultural benefits which sites such as YouTube offer, the negative economic impact in particular will be felt in the UK should this go ahead.

I am a member of PRS for Music, the UK organisation which collects royalties for songwriters and composers. PRS were in dispute with Google, and worked very hard to strike an agreement with YouTube/Google to collect royalties from YouTube, which they now do.

If such website blocking happens, I will not be able to inform PRS which content they should be collecting on my behalf. Given that 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute (as of March 2010) PRS relies on the inspection and reporting of its members to know what to collect. YouTube would not be able to deliver my music to UK audiences. In this way, my own income will unfairly and directly be affected.

Finally, many of this bill’s proposals are influenced by advice given by the BPI, for whom I have consulted on podcasting.

I find it impossible to countenance that a Labour government even in its last days would allow suggestions from the BPI to become law. From my personal experience, the BPI promote aggressive and backwards-looking protectionism. They do not speak for a very large proportion of the music industry.

I ask you to read the opinion of the Featured Artists Coalition http://www.featuredartistscoalition.com/ – who state:

“… rights owners are wasting their money by trying to control file-sharing. They are neither succeeding in their efforts nor acting with fiduciary responsibility to the content originators whom they are failing to recompense properly. Their vain efforts at control are merely Canute like attempts to maintain an anachronism of a business model.

The problem is that they are spending a lot of money defending the old model and it’s hard to find evidence of a single major record company investing in new ways of nurturing talent or developing artists careers online or offline.

Independent labels (like Beggars Banquet and other smaller labels) are increasingly seeing the economic arguments in favour of the new model. The Zelnick report just published in France has recommended it. The UK Music Manager Forum has been calling for it for nearly a year. The UK music industry group called the Value Recognition Strategy group has been planning to trial a version of this on the Isle of Man for about eighteen months, but the major labels and the music publishers have prevented it. Universal music themselves proposed a form of collective license for unlimited downloads to the Virgin Media group for their music service and this has not launched due to the objections of the other major labels.

Running out ahead of the crowd, a group of thinkers with a great deal of experience and insight into digital media has been proposing this for some time. Myself, Pete Jenner, Gerd Leonhard, Paul Sanders, Paul Hitchman, Matthew Brown and occasionally our cousin Jim Griffin in the US have been meeting for about five years to develop the thinking around this. But we have often felt ourselves to be in the wilderness. Jim has been trying to work through the issues with his Choruss group courtesy of Warner Music in the US but his proposed trials on US university campuses have yet to launch – hopefully we will see some action this year. Meanwhile, the UK Government’s Digital Britain programme has spawned Digital Test Beds which are being managed by the Technology Strategy Board and which may become precisely the kind of platform that could help try out some of these new models in a relatively risk free fashion – and with some public subsidy – how enlightened is that?”

The DE Bill bill deserves a full and proper debate. It is clear that the bill is deeply flawed and in its current form will probably damage the UK’s culture and economy, will adversely affect innocent people, and will make a mockery of enforcement.

Therefore, please make your voice heard on this issue, and give the Digital Economy Bill the full and proper debate it sorely needs.

Yours Sincerely,

Dean Whitbread.

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