In defence of the Digital Economy Act

To repeal this law would put jobs at risk across the board.

Nick Clegg's announcement that members of the public would be able to nominate legislation to be scrapped through his "Great Repeal Bill" has led to many calls for the Digital Economy Act to be included in the list.

Laurie Penny recently used this website to set out why she thought the DEA should be repealed. The piece was disappointing and repeated a lot of the well-rehearsed untruths made by many in the debate over the past year. It failed to recognise both the extent of the problem of file-sharing and the support the act has among all sectors of the creative industries.

As the act faces a possible legal challenge by some internet service providers, I feel it is only fair to defend this landmark legislation, which will go a long way to protecting the thousands of UK jobs in the creative industries.

The introduction of the Digital Economy Bill to parliament in November 2009 was a culmination of years of review, consultation and discussion between the government, creative industries, ISPs and consumers. Its aim was to address the significant and very real threat that illegal file-sharing poses to the UK's creative industries.

However, many of the myths spouted about the act continue. One which is repeated by its opponents continuously is that the act threatens to criminalise millions of internet users. Be clear: there are no criminal provisions in the act; this claim is baseless and is often a deliberate distortion of the facts.

In addition, there are extensive safeguards included in the act to ensure that consumers who have not illegally uploaded or downloaded material are protected.

The measures in the act are designed to educate infringers without taking drastic action immediately. Only the most egregious online copyright infringers will face any substantial measures; and only after further consultation.

The creative industries are working hard at ensuring that the appeals process is fair, fast and effective. We are also fulfilling our own side of the bargain by developing technologies to improve the consumer experience and by working harder to educate consumers about the legal alternatives available. We are keen to hear from consumers about how they think we can promote legal alternatives to this problem.

Much of the opposition to the act has come from those people who enjoyed the environment that existed prior to the legislation, in which it was relatively easy to download material free of charge, without proper payment to the rights holder, and without fear of punishment. This simply isn't fair, and fails to appreciate the impact such activity has on those people who work in the creative sectors.

Some opponents also argue that the act is nothing more than an attempt to protect the large film studios and record labels, yet this fails to appreciate the thousands of ordinary jobs and livelihoods put at risk by illegal file-sharing. A recent EU-wide study by TERA Consultants found that, by 2015, the cost of piracy to the UK economy could amount to 254,000 jobs and €7.8bn in retail revenue if measures, such as those outlined in the act, are not adopted.

It was for this reason that the Creative Coalition Campaign was established -- not just with rights holders such as Pact -- but also with trade unions representing professions from a range of sectors including publishing, sport, film, television and music. This groundbreaking partnership has worked to articulate the very real threat posed to jobs by illegal file-sharing.

Our aim is not to persecute innocent consumers, but rather to protect the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of people who work in our sectors -- all of whom have a right to be properly compensated for the work they produce.

We therefore welcomed the introduction of the legislation in April. It is structured, quite rightly, to bring rights holders and internet service providers together to tackle online piracy. The strength of support for it within the creative industries is clear and the Creative Coalition Campaign looks forward to playing its part in ensuring the successful implementation of the new law.

The UK's creative sector produces world-class content, bringing joy to countless people across the UK and the world. However, this cannot be sustained if illegal file-sharing persists.

The DEA is a necessary step to protect jobs across the board -- not only for recording artists, but for technicians, manufacturers, musicians, writers, photographers and staff in high-street shops, among many others. To repeal it would put all these people's livelihoods at risk.

John McVay is chief executive of Pact and a member of the Creative Coalition Campaign.

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Why Podemos will defeat the Spanish Socialists

A new alliance on the Spanish Left will be stronger than the sum of its parts.

On Saturday morning, on a palm-tree lined promenade in the small city of Badalona in eastern Catalonia, a 38-year-old woman named Mar García Puig fanned herself with her speaking notes after taking her turn on the stage.

Until six months ago, Puig was a literary editor with no professional experience in politics apart from attending demonstrations and rallies. Then, in December, her life was transformed twice over. In the national election, she won a parliamentary seat for En Comú Podem, the Catalan regional ally of the anti-austerity party Podemos. Four hours after she learned of her victory, Puig gave birth to twins.

Fortunately Puig’s husband, who is a teacher, was able to take paternity leave so that she could take up her seat. In parliament, Puig “felt like an alien”, she told me over coffee. As it turned out, she had to give up her seat prematurely anyway – along with all the other Spanish MPs – when repeated attempts to form a government failed. So now, in the lead-up to Spain’s first repeat election of the modern era, to be held on 26 June, Puig was on the campaign trail once more in a drive to win a parliamentary seat.

The December general election was as historic as it was inconclusive, ushering in a novel political era in Spain and leaving the country with the most fragmented parliament in its history. Fed up with corruption, austerity and a weak recovery from the global financial crisis, voters punished the mainstream parties, ending the 40-year dominance of the conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) and the centre-left PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which have held power since the death of General Franco. Neither group was able to win an absolute majority as new parties from both ends of the political spectrum garnered support from disenchanted voters.

On the left, Podemos, which was only founded in March 2014 by the ponytailed political scientist Pablo Iglesias, won 20 per cent of the vote. Ciudadanos (Citizens), formed in Catalonia a decade ago and occupying the centre left or centre right, depending on which analyst you talk to, secured a 14 per cent share.

Despite having four months to form a coalition government, the two biggest political parties could not reach a deal. The People’s Party, which had implemented a harsh austerity package over the past five years, recorded its worst electoral performance since 1989, losing 16 percentage points. It still won the most votes, however, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was the first leader to be asked by King Felipe VI to form a government.

By the end of January, Rajoy conceded defeat after the PSOE refused to join his “grand coalition”. The Socialists then failed in their own attempt to form a government, leading the king to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election.

Despite the inconvenience of having to campaign nationwide once again – and being away from her twins – Mar García Puig’s enthusiasm for her new career is undiminished. “In Spain there is a window of opportunity,” she said. “There is a receptiveness to politics that there wasn’t before.”

When the repeat elections were called, some questioned whether Podemos and its regional allies could mobilise its supporters to the same extent as in December. Yet Puig believes that the party’s appeal has grown further in the six months that the country has been without a government. “We are still new and Podemos has this freshness – it can still make people join,” she told me.

The following day, as the church bells rang at noon in the Basque city of Bilbao, crowds gathered for another rally. For protection against the sun, Podemos supporters had covered their heads with purple triangular paper hats displaying the party name as it will appear on the ballot paper: Unidos Podemos, or “United We Can”.

In May, Podemos entered into an alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), the radical left-wing party that includes the Communist Party of Spain, and which won 3 per cent of the vote in December. Izquierda Unida is headed by Alberto Garzón, a 30-year-old Marxist economist who, according to a poll by the state-run CIS research institute, is the most highly rated party leader in Spain. Unlike Podemos’s Iglesias, who can fire up a crowd and is seen by some as divisive, Garzón is a calm and articulate politician who appeals to disaffected voters.

Nagua Alba, who at 26 is Podemos’s youngest MP, said the new alliance would be stronger than the sum of its parts, because Spain’s voting system punishes smaller parties when it comes to allocating seats in parliament. “It [the alliance] will attract all those people that aren’t convinced yet. It shows we can all work together,” Alba said.

As part of the agreement with Podemos, Izquierda Unida has agreed to drop its demands for a programme of renationalisation and withdrawing Spain from Nato. The alliance is campaigning on a platform of reversing Rajoy’s labour reforms, removing the national debt ceiling, opposing the TTIP trade deal, and increasing the minimum wage to €900 a month. A Unidos Podemos government would attempt to move the EU’s economic policy away from austerity and towards a more expansionist stance, joining a broader effort that involves Greece, Italy and Portugal. It is also committed to offering the Catalans a referendum on independence, a move that the mainstream parties strongly oppose.

The latest polls suggest that Unidos Podemos will become Spain’s second-biggest party, with 26 per cent of the vote, behind Rajoy’s Popular Party. The Socialist Party looks poised to fall into third place, with 21 per cent, and Ciudadanos is expected to hold its 14 per cent share. If the polls are accurate, the PSOE will face a difficult choice that highlights how far its stock has fallen. It can choose to enter as a junior partner into a coalition with the insurgent left, which has politically outmanoeuvred it. Or it could decide to prop up a Partido Popular-led right-wing coalition, serving as a constraint on power. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain