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Laurie Penny recently used this website to set out why she thought the DEA should be repealed.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 the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.