Digital Economy Act – Message to Surrey East parliamentary candidates

Like many others, I was very disappointed to see the Digital Economy Act pushed through parliament in the dying days of the last government. The Act was passed following inadequate debate and no real understanding of the issues at stake. Unfortunately a majority of MPs did not even bother to vote on a piece of legislation that has significant implications for the future of a vital industry. Clauses in the Act reflect the lobbying by sections of the media industry and not the reality of the Internet world we now live in. With a few honourable exceptions, Parliament behaved as if it had no comprehension of the technology revolution around us.

The Digital Economy Act is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that requires urgent revision in the next parliament, whichever parties are in government. The approach to copyright protection is based on the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, a piece of legislation that predates the digital and Internet age. This copyright legislation needs urgent examination to understand how it should now support digital copyright. The implicit assumption in the Digital Economy Act that it is still fit for purpose must be debated. There are many ways to protect the intellectual property of the creative media industries and changes in the way copyright supports digital goods and services would help to drive the adoption of new business models in the online world. Content providers must step up to the challenge of providing digital content that users want, in the way they want it and at a price fair to all parties.

Making Internet Service Providers and providers of public wireless hotspots responsible for policing the content delivered over their networks puts an unreasonable onus on service providers and makes them liable for content they have no control over. It will stifle innovation in the online world, impose a heavy cost burden on service providers and cause providers of free wireless services to withdraw them, rather than risk prosecution. Technology is smarter than legislators and users will continue to be one step ahead of attempts to control them.

My challenge to the candidates in Surrey East is to provide a firm commitment that if elected you will campaign for the relevant clauses in the Digital Economy Act to be repealed and for a full debate on the future of digital copyright in the UK.

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