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Laurie Penny recently used this website to set out why she thought the DEA should be repealed.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.

Subscription offer: Get 12 issues for just £12 PLUS a free copy of "The Idea of Justice" by Amartya Sen.

Getty.
Show Hide image

On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

0800 7318496