Digital Economy Bill – Writing to my MP

There’s been a lot of talk about the Digital Economy Bill here in the UK. It’s likely to be passed into law soon, and this worries me and many other people.

I’ve written to my MP about this. Here’s the text of my letter:

Dear Mr.Hands,

I’m writing to you today because I’m very worried that the Government is planning to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without a full Parliamentary debate. The proposed Bill is controversial, and contains many measures that concern me. As a freelance interactive producer and game designer, it is of material concern to my business that this country has widespread open access to the Internet with as few restrictions as possible.

We have already corresponded on this matter, by post, in the fall. At this point, I would like to again highlight my concern, which is all the more relevant now that the bill is close to passing into law.

This controversial bill deserves proper scrutiny. Its implications for privacy and democratic participation are significant. The effectiveness of enacting technical measures on persistent downloaders (even if they could be conclusively identified) is strongly questioned by leading computer security experts. I am particulary worried by the prospect of people being punished for alleged downloading – at the behest of publishing companies – without a due process of law.

In my opinion this sets a worrying precedent, as it would seem to violate the principle of presumed innocence upon which this country’s legal system rests. (An appeals process is also proposed within the bill, but this would enter into force only after an accused person has been disconnected, thus requiring them to prove their innocence rather than requiring the accuser to prove their guilt.)

Music and film publishing companies claim that internet does damage to their sales. But there is a growing body of strong evidence indicating that downloaders actually spend more money on listening to music (often live) and going to the cinema than non-downloaders do. This bill would therefore seem to be an attempt at protecting an obsolescent publishing and business model, rather than protecting musicians or filmmakers as a group.

The current decline in the music and DVD industry is a function of technological change, which has precipitated changes in consumer behaviour. People download music and video illegaly because they want to consume their content in a manner of their choosing – and because there are few legal alternatives available online. Nevertheless, companies like Spotify have proven that it is possible to make money legally while satisfying these consumer demands. If a viable alternative exists, people will use it.

Finally, I have doubts that the measures proposed by the bill will be effective. Pirates worldwide have proven their ingenuity time and again. Methods to circumvent the technical restrictions and surveillance procedures proposed in the bill will doubtless soon be developed. Some are already available, but seldom used. If this bill is enacted, that would soon change.

It is therefore doubtful that the bill will cut piracy by the target 70%. It is far more likely that the bill will significantly damage open access to the internet in the UK, anger and frustrate many innocent UK internet users who will be falsely accused, and be expensive to implement.

I suggest that spending tax-payers’ money implementing this bill will be inefficient and ineffective. Far more likely to succeed would be an innovation fund supporting research and development of new delivery and business models for content online.

For all these reasons, please don’t let the government rush this bill through. Many people besides myself think it will damage schools and businesses, as well as unjustly harming innocent people who rely on the internet for their business, education, and daily life. Industry experts, internet service providers and leading internet companies like Google and Yahoo are all opposing the bill – yet the Government seems intent on passing it without enough debate.

As a constituent, I am writing to you today to ask you to do all you can to ensure the Government doesn’t just rush this bill through and deny us our democratic right to scrutiny and debate.

Sincerely yours,

– Philip Trippenbach

I’ll post the reply here when I get it.

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