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Laurie Penny recently used this website to set out why she thought the DEA should be repealed.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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GARY WATERS
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In defence of expertise: it’s time to take the heart out of “passionate” politics

What we need is cool logic.

We are living through a bonfire of the experts. During the EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove explained that people had had enough of them. A few weeks later, his fellow Tory MPs took him at his word and chose a relative ingénue to run against Theresa May.

After declaring for Andrea Leadsom in the Tory leadership race, Michael Howard was asked whether it might be a problem that she had never held a position higher than junior minister. Howard, whose long career includes stints as home secretary and opposition leader, demurred: “I don’t think experience is hugely important.”

Even in this jaw-dropping season, that comment caused significant mandibular dislocation. I thought: the next Tory leader will become prime minister at a time of national crisis, faced with some of the UK’s most complex problems since the Second World War. If experience doesn’t matter now, it never does. What does that imply about the job?

Leadsom’s supporters contended that her 25 years in the City were just as valuable as years spent at Westminster. Let’s leave aside the disputed question of whether Leadsom was ever a senior decision-maker (rather than a glorified marketing manager) and ask if success in one field makes it more likely that a person will succeed in another.

Consider Ben Carson, who, despite never having held elected office, contested the Republican presidential nomination. He declared that Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery and that Hitler may have been stopped if the German public had been armed. Yet Carson is not stupid. He is an admired neurosurgeon who pioneered a method of separating conjoined twins.

Carson is a lesson in the first rule of expertise: it does not transfer from one field to another. This is why, outside their domain, the most brilliant people can be complete dolts. Nevertheless, we – and they – often assume otherwise. People are all too ready to believe that successful generals or entrepreneurs will be good at governing, even though, more often than not, they turn out to be painfully inept.

The psychologist Ellen Langer had her subjects play a betting game. Cards were drawn at random and the players had to bet on whose card was higher. Each played against a well-dressed, self-assured “dapper” and a shabby, awkward “schnook”. The participants knew that it was a game of chance but they took more risks against the schnook. High confidence in one area (“I’m more socially adept than the schnook”) irrationally spilled over into another (“I’ll draw better cards”).

The experiment points us to another reason why we make poor judgements about competence. We place too much faith in social cues – in what we can see. As voters, we assume that because someone is good at giving a speech or taking part in a debate, they will be good at governing. But public performance is an unreliable indicator of how they would cope with running meetings, reading policy briefs and taking decisions in private. Call it the Boris principle.

This overrating of the visible extends beyond politics. Decades of evidence show that the job interview is a poor predictor of how someone will do in the job. Organisations make better decisions when they rely on objective data such as qualifications, track record and test scores. Interviewers are often swayed by qualities that can be performed.

MPs on the Commons education select committee rejected Amanda Spielman, the government’s choice for the next head of Ofsted, after her appearance before them. The committee didn’t reject her because she was deficient in accomplishments or her grasp of education policy, but because she lacked “passion”. Her answers to the committee were thoughtful and evidence-based. Yet a Labour MP told her she wasn’t sufficiently “evangelical” about school improvement; a Tory asked her to stop using the word “data” so often. Apparently, there is little point in being an expert if you cannot emote.

England’s football team is perennially berated in the media for not being passionate enough. But what it lacks is technique. Shortly before Wales played England in the European Championship, the Welsh striker Gareth Bale suggested that England’s players lacked passion. He knew exactly what he was doing. In the tunnel before kick-off, TV cameras caught the English goalkeeper Joe Hart in a vessel-busting frenzy. On the pitch, Hart allowed Bale to score from an absurdly long range because he was incapable of thinking straight.

I wish there were less passion in politics and more cool logic; less evangelism and more data. Unthinking passion has brought the Labour Party to its knees and threatens to do the same to the country. I find myself hungering for dry analyses and thirsting for bloodless lucidity. I admire, more than ever, those with obscure technical knowledge and the hard-won skills needed to make progress, rather than merely promise it.

Political leadership is not brain surgery but it is a rich and deep domain. An effective political leader needs to be an expert in policy, diplomacy, legislative process and how not to screw up an interview. That is why it’s so hard to do the job well when you have spent most of your time in boardrooms or at anti-war rallies.

If democratic politicians display contempt for expertise, including their own, they can hardly complain if those they aspire to govern decide to do without the lot of them. 

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt