March 16, 2010 | Jim Killock

What Panorama didn’t talk about: our rights

Yesterday, I debated the Digital Economy Bill in front of law students and academics. The debate could not have been more different from last night’s Panorama.

Graham Smith of Bird & Bird outlined the legal situation. Then Richard Mollett of the BPI outlined his ‘top ten’ myths about the Digital Economy Bill, in a point by point attack on such well known radical critics as Liberty, Consumer Focus, JANET and the British Library. He did fail to mention that other group of political dissentors, MI5.

I then presented a series of points dealing with the extremity of disconnection as a punishment, and the stark contrast between this and how we treat gas, water and electricity. It is illegal to cut off water, companies go to extreme lengths not to disconnect any of these services, even offering reduced tariffs for the hard up.

The BPI is waging a war on every citizen in the country by demanding disconnection. Everyone’s rights are being curtailed in the name of their business interests. They are manipulating the political process and distorting the legislation that results.

They have gone so far as to suggest that politicians should evade democratic scrutiny of the Digital Economy Bill.

There are plenty of other corporate lobbyists that have manipulated politics before, of course. We might think of the oil industry, the motor lobby, tobacco giants, PFI lobbyists, Monsanto or pharmaceuticals.

What all these industry lobbies frequently share is a desire to act in their own interests against clear public interests. This is the path that the BPI and rights holders are choosing to take when they demand that citizen’s human rights are curtailed in order to better enforce their property rights, and appear to think that wider collatoral damage, such as backdoor censorship, chilling effects and the death of open wifi are acceptable.

This perspective was curiously underplayed in the Panorama broadcast yesterday. Instead, we mostly listened to a discussion between different musicians worrying about the future of their industry.

While that’s a concern – and the central concern of the BPI – our concern is our rights, democracy, and the future of our society, which is being built on the internet. We do not withdraw the basic tool of society without the most extreme reason. We certainly do not do such a thing without a massive public and democratic debate.

Please write to your MP – demand a debate – and tell everyone you know about this disgraceful Bill.

Comments (10)

  1. Antony Watts:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 09:04 AM

    Written AGAIN to my MP (Tony Baldry) with me objections to the Bill. Encourage everyone else to do the same.

  2. Crosbie Fitch:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    It's the old "Would you sleep with me for a £million?" question. If you support copyright we've established you're happy to surrender your right. All that's being quibbled about now is the price (social cost of enforcement).

    You can't surrender your natural right AND complain that those you've surrendered it to are too eager to protect and exploit the privilege you've given them.

    This won't get resolved until the doublethink ends.

  3. Tom:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    This is what I wrote to my MP.

    "Dear Sir,

    I recently wrote to you about the Digital Economy Bill. In my letter I outlined the reasons why this bill would be very bad for Cornwall.

    I was very pleased to see that the Liberal Democrats voted unanimously to oppose the bill. Thank you.

    However, I now read that a leaked memo from the BPI has revealed a very disturbing development. Without wishing to appear naive about how politics works, I have to say that I was shocked when I read the following passage from the memo:

    '[MPs] will have minimum input … from this point on. … John Whittingdate MP [DCMS committee] … has said this week it [the Bill] could be lost if enough MPs protest at not having the opportunity to scrutinise it. Whist true in constitutional terms, the hard politics of the situation makes it seem unlikely … Come the week of 29th March the main political focus is likely to be on the … Budget'

    It appears that the BPI are confident that a bill which affects the rights and futures of millions of people in Britain, will be fast-tracked through parliament without any proper debate.

    How can I and ordinary businesses, schools, libraries, cafes, shared households and open access areas believe that we live in an egalitarian society that promotes communication and collaboration when our political leaders are prepared to allow powerful forces like the BPI to ride roughshod over the democratic parliamentary process?

    I cannot and will not vote for or support a system which allows statute to be bought and sold in this manner. It is corruption, and it has no place in our political system.

    Please do all you can to make sure that this bill is properly and openly debated at length in Parliament.

    Yours sincerely,

  4. Frances James Gunn:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    If previous governments had toed the corporate lobbyists' lines...

    Photocopiers would never have made it into our offices, denting our ability to manage information and therefore our technical progress.

    Video recorders would have been banned, thwarting the home entertainment market and perhaps inadvertently starving the film industry of billions from sales of movies watched at home.

    The humble audio cassette would not have made it to our homes and cars. Not only would long drives be unbearable, but home computers like the Sinclair ZX80/Spectrum and Commodore 64 that used audio cassettes as a cheap storage medium would not have been able to produce such affordable home computers. Would the games industry even have got off it's feet without home computers?

    Reactionaries like the BPI and big music are looking at the short term without considering the longer term and collateral affects. Obliterating the parasites now may affect the whole "food chain" in years to come.

    My latest spoof:

    Mexican drugs cartels unite against illegal filesharing after large fall in drugs sales to pop stars:


  5. Tom:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    Hi Crosbie,

    Whilst I agree in principle, I think in practice we have to act. It seems to me that copyright laws will have to evolve or be got rid of altogether because I don't think anyone can halt the growth of sharing on the internet.

    Unless, that is, we end up on a glorified version of a corporate network where almost nothing except http and https to a list of approved websites is allowed (oh yes and pre approved Microsoft gaming ports and protocols for the proles). I cannot believe even the average consumer would put up with this btw., even joe public must surely be able to recognise that we'd be worse off than the Chinese if that happened?!

    Nevertheless, to be absolutely certain we do not even begin to roll along that road we MUST do everything we can to prevent this bill from being passed into law.

  6. Jim Killock:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    Good points Jim. Personally, I felt the episode was reasonably balanced (and you have to remember this is Panorama, so I was expecting too much detail), but agree there was too much focus on the musicians side of things rather than rights.

    Still, now that DEBill's gone through the Lords, it seems like a good time to remind people to sign the number 10 petition if they haven't already done so!

  7. Miles:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 04:36 PM

    The official BBC Panorama website is asking for comments on their programme. I submitted mine and suggest that everyone that found the programme lacking do the same.

  8. Miles:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 04:48 PM

    Just discovered that my comment was published in full!

    My comment:

    I was very disappointed in Panorama. The programme was heavily biased in favour of the music industry and continually cited their unproven statistics as fact, with only 9 minutes of the hour-long show dedicated to the viewpoints of those against the Bill. There was no input from Liberty, Consumer Focus or the Open Rights Group - all of whom are against the bill on fundamental human rights grounds. The most controversial aspect of the Bill, that an accused filesharer doesn't even get the right to a fair court hearing before being disconnected, wasn't even mentioned. The fact that this would almost certainly mean the death of Open Wi-Fi and the end of Internet Cafes was also glossed over. If that wasn't enough, the programme was also full of technical inaccuracies, like calling BitTorrent a Website. This made it clear that the presenter and the programme makers didn't know the first thing about the subject they were discussing. I expected better from such a high profile, factual, programme on the BBC. In my opinion, The Culture Show's coverage of the same Bill was far more accurate and informative.

    - Miles

  9. Crosbie Fitch:
    Mar 16, 2010 at 07:06 PM

    Tom, I've replied here:

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