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Laurie Penny recently used this website to set out why she thought the DEA should be repealed.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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Time to start fixing the broken safety net that no longer catches struggling families

We are failing to ensure we look after the children of families both in and out of work.

Families on low incomes are once again bearing the brunt of a tough economic environment. Over the past decade, rising costs of items such as food, energy and childcare, combined with stagnating wages and cuts in benefits, have repeatedly put a squeeze on family budgets.

Between 2014 and 2016, some of these pressures eased, as inflation sank to zero and pay started to grow again. But now that inflation has returned, for the first time in postwar history the increasing cost of a child is being combined with a freeze in all financial support for children. The failure to uprate either benefits, tax credits or the wage levels at which tax credits are withdrawn means that inflation is bound to erode modest family incomes both in and out of work.

The gradual fall in living standards that this produces will be worsened by other benefit cuts that come in over the next few years, for different families at different times. For a start, the phasing out of the “family element” of Child Tax Credit (and its equivalent in Universal Credit) will eventually result in all low-income families getting more than £500 a year less from the state than at present.

Since this only applies to families whose oldest child was born in April 2017 or later, it hits families with the youngest children first, with the effect spreading gradually through the population. The restriction of tax credit entitlements to a maximum of two children is also being phased in, affecting only third children born from this year on, but will clobber families much more severely, with a loss of nearly £2,800 a year per child.

Some existing larger families who escape this cut have nevertheless had their income severely reduced this year (by anything up to £6,000) by the reduction in the benefit cap.

My latest report on the cost of a child, for Child Poverty Action Group, takes stock of these trends and the effects they will have on parents’ ability to provide for their families effectively. For some families in work, improved support for childcare and a higher minimum wage partially offsets the losses incurred as a result of the above cuts. But for those relying on benefits as a “safety net” when they are not working, the level of this net is being progressively lowered over time. On present policies, the support that it provides will sink below half of what families need as a minimum sometime early in the 2020s – having in contrast provided about two thirds of their requirements at the start of the present decade.

There comes a point when a “safety net” stops being worthy of its name because it is no longer enough to provide even the bare essentials of modern life. The evidence shows that when income sinks this low, most families can only escape severe material hardship either by going into debt or by getting help from extended family members.

We are about to enter a new parliamentary season, led by a government that survived by the skin of its teeth after a disgruntled electorate failed to give it the clear majority that it sought. Raising family living standards has been at the heart of the political promise to improve people’s lives. The benefits freeze alone seems to contradict this promise by creating a downward escalator for the half of families relying on some kind of means-tested benefit or tax credit, in combination with child benefit.

For those  who are “just about managing”, and particularly for others who are not managing at all, the clearest signal that Philip Hammond could give in his Autumn Budget that he is starting  to reverse the direction of that escalator would be to restore a system of benefit upratings. This would at least allow incomes to keep up with living costs, stopping things from getting systematically worse, and giving a stable foundation on which measures to improve living standards could build.

Professor Donald Hirsch is director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University