Pirates and Parliament

Memo to self… must blog more often! Anyway, here’s notice of an event being held in Parliament next week, which may be of interest to some people who have been Twittering about the Digital Economy Bill. I assume it’s only open to members of the APPG, but thought people might like to know it’s happening. I’m going to try to go along, or send a researcher at least.

HOW DOES FILESHARING AFFECT JOBS AND INVESTMENT? WHY IS THE PROPOSED DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL NECESSARY?

Janet Anderson MP invites you to a joint meeting of the All-Party Intellectual Property Group, the All-Party Group on Publishing, the All-Party Music Group, the All-Party Film Group and the All-Party Writers’ Group – Tuesday 24th November 2009 from 15.00 to 16.30 hrs

The meeting will hear from people whose livelihoods depend on the protection of Intellectual Property online and how the Digital Economy Bill could best help protect jobs and community projects across the country.

Speakers include:
Huw Jennings, Fulham FC’s Academy Director
Francis Keeling, Universal Music Group
Joan Smith, Writer and Journalist
Fionnuala Duggan, Publisher, Random House
Paul Hayes, Construction Manager, Leavesden Film Studios

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I had a long chat with Feargal Sharkey at a dinner at Labour Conference, about the file-sharing/ illegal downloading issue. He’s obviously speaking from the music industry viewpoint, and he was at pains to stress that this isn’t about protecting the Coldplays, Lily Allens and Radioheads of the world. It’s about new artists trying to make it, and artists who have been around for years and never quite had their big break, who rely on royalties to scrape a living doing what they love. I challenged Feargal on this: surely file-sharing and downloading for free actually helped these bands get established, by making more people aware of the work and building an audience? Or by allowing a new audience to discover the work of older bands who are still out there plugging away on the gig circuit? (In my day it was all about taping stuff off the John Peel show, tacitly encouraged by Peelie’s obstinate refusal to talk over the intros or endings of songs unlike his Radio 1 colleagues who tended to blather on regardless). But Feargal said it doesn’t work like that, that it actually hits such artists pretty hard. And surely they have a right to be paid for their work, and to have copyright protection?

Some might argue that the genie is out of the bottle, that illegal downloading/ file-sharing is here to stay, that ‘consumers’ rights are more important than those of the industry. I suppose my view is coloured by being rather keener on music produced by independent artists/ record labels, so when I think of buying a record I think – showing my age here! – in terms of keeping the likes of Factory or Rough Trade or Postcard going (which, it could be argued, was almost a moral obligation in the 1980s) not in terms of adding to Simon Cowell’s bank balance.

Interesting debating point – is there a difference between illegally downloading a Beatles song, thus denying Michael Jackson’s estate a few pennies in copyright payments, and illegally downloading, say, an early Orange Juice track, denying the estimable Edwyn Collins (who has had a hard time of it lately) a chance to make a living? Morally, perhaps there is – but in law, there’s no way such distinctions could ever be made.

As for the Bill itself… I am trying, and, I confess, struggling to get to grips with all sides of the debate, which has been complicated by suggestions that delegated legislation (i.e. a statutory instrument rather than a full-blown Act of Parliament) could be used to introduce some of the changes.

Credit is due to Tom Watson MP, who has set up a Facebook group and to Sion Simon MP, for attempting to answer people’s questions on Twitter. (Sion, as a DMCS Minister, will in part be responsible for steering the Bill through the Commons). He is saying ‘three strikes’ is an inaccurate description of the proposed law, that “the plan is to reduce unlawful filesharing through education and warning letters. a/c suspension is a last resort reserve power.” The response from some has been to argue that the Secretary of State should never have this power, that people should be fined if they break the law, not have their internet connection stopped, which, it is argued, is a fundamental breach of their civil liberties, especially where there is a family/ household computer and only one person in the household has been guilty of copyright infringement.

Anyway, this is just me dipping my toe into the water on this issue… I expect there will be a lot of debate over the coming months, as the Bill goes through Parliament, whether it’s an enabling Bill which will allow further rules to be set by delegated legislation or something more substantial. Here’s where you can track the progress of the Bil through Parliament. It hasn’t even had its Second Reading – a general debate on principles of the Bill – yet, so those who are unhappy with the proposals as they stand will have plenty of opportunities to make their voices heard.

PS Thanks to @problybored on Twitter who has pointed me in the direction of the Featured Artists Coalition, of musicians who oppose cutting-off accounts but want to find other ways to defend their livelihoods from illegal downloading/ file-sharing. And in the direction of an open letter he’s written to his own MP, which is interesting.

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