Passionate debate in the Lords last night as government fails to clarify the bill

Stop disconnectionThe Lords laid into the government last night, in a very emotive and passionate debate. There was anger, the same anger we are feeling.

Lords doubted that an accused infringer would have sufficient legal rights to appeal. They also made clear that the music industry and other copyright holders unleashed an “extraordinary degree of lobbying” in order to get the bill through as quickly as possible. Finally, Lords complained about the impact on libraries, universities and internet cafes with (open) wifi.

The Government front bench’s reply was disappointing to say the least. They don’t want to see unis in front of a court over infringement but don’t want to exclude them from the proposed law either.

The Government has been down playing the impact on these institutions and businesses in general and keeps saying that if we all behave sensibly it will all be fine. No it won’t.

The main problem remains that the account holder is responsible for infringements, not the infringer. The Government acknowledges that this is true, but doesn’t care.

Another worrying aspect is that the government thinks that it is unnecessary to pass on the bill to the Office of the Information Commissioner for oversight. They don’t even hide their intentions: It would delay the process of passing the bill into law.

There are some very serious concerns regarding the privacy of citizens and Lord Puttnam was right to accuse the Government of attempting to push the legislation through and not allowing proper discussion.

More importantly he  said that the bill as it stands is not fit for purpose. Or a total mess you might want to add. Lord Puttnam said:

I am absolutely convinced that, within the next two or three years, there will be another bill before this house which will be created to deal with the deficiencies of the present bill.”

Lords asked the right questions, but amendments were withdrawn or votes on amendments lost. The government’s idea to rush though with the legislation became apparent once more as they ‘discussed’ a block of 5 or more amendments at a time.

A whole lot of the bill remains unclear or unspecified and opposition peers have tried to get answers from the government. It may look like a naïve question when the Conservative front bench asks what hotels should do if they receive an infringement notice for a guest, but it points to one of the major problems of the bill.

How would internet cafes, libraries, universities deal with infringers? What happens to their connection of they receive the qualified amount of infringement reports from Ofcom? If they get disconnected how would students, for instance, continue their studies?

The government has not offered any satisfactory solutions to this problem.

The debate continues tomorrow with the most crucial pieces of the legislation, i.e. clauses 11 and 17. We will be tweeting from 4pm.

What can you do?

We want to make this bill a public debate across the country as the election approaches. That’s why we are asking you to write to your local paper and let people know that disconnection is wrong. Ask your MP and election candidates what their positions on the Digital Economy Bill is.