Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Digital Economy Bill ... no Northern Ireland MPs spoke or were present (until the end)

Now that the date of the General Election has been announced and the Prime Minister has gone to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament on the 12 April, there are only a few days of business left.

The main parties met to agree how to accelerate the completion of some of the pieces of legislation already going through Parliament, chopping out contentious clauses to speed up their passage before Parliament is adjourned on Thursday 8th. The technical term is prorogation, but after that there will be no further business until the formal dissolution on Monday 12th.

Still image from BBC Democracy live - second reading of Digital Economy Bill

On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the second reading of the Digital Economy Bill, the majority of the legislation that came out of the Digital Britain report published in 2009. Some sections were scrapped, including those around the creation of Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNCs) - a subject close to the heart of UTV (who are the preferred bidder as Wales Live to run the Welsh trial).

But the bill still contains many issues of which members of the public - like you and me - have concerns about: online copyright infringement, forcing ISPs disclose details of customers who repeatedly are accused of infringing copyright (ie, download torrents), radio spectrum allocation, Digital Switchover for Radio (DAB), Broadband access and speeds, as well as the public service remit of ITV, Channel 4 and Five. Hundreds wrote to their local MPs. many receiving warm responses.

Some great lines from the debate - which I present entirely out of context.

"We wanted an iPod, but we got an Amstrad. We wanted digital switchover, but we ended up with analogue switch-off. It is time to reboot Britain, and only the Conservatives can deliver that."

"The best way to illustrate this is by means of an old-tech linear-medium metaphor. In this metaphorical world that they have constructed, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who is in his place but not paying attention, is Luke Skywalker. He is the little guy, the plucky loner fighting the machine.

Clay Shirky is Obi Wan Kenobi, the wise, broad, almost mystical guru figure. Peter Mandelson is obviously Darth Vader. Rather more counter-intuitively, however-this is where the metaphor begins to fracture-the evil Sith Chancellor Palpatine, the most evil universally bad figure of all, turns out to be Steven Spielberg.

That is who Luke Skywalker is fighting-the ultimate rights holder, the acme of creative content ownership. When Spielberg turns out to be the ultimate evil, we know that the metaphor-otherwise quite cleverly constructed by the freedom fighters-is not just flawed, but misleading, damaging and dangerous. When Spielberg is the ultimate evil, it turns out that creativity is the enemy. It is creativity that Luke and his pals are after."

During the 6 hour debate, no Northern Ireland MPs spoke, and from flicking through the footage of the session, I can see no evidence that any local MP was in the Commons during the debate. Update - Jeffrey Donaldson (see below) was quick to suggest otherwise. Broadband access, ITV's public service remit (UTV's franchise), Digital Radio - all relevant to Northern Ireland, but no representation at this stage of the bill.

Today, another bill affecting Northern Ireland was before the commons - the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill - which means that MPs or MEPs who are also MLAs will not receive an MLA salary (a step on the road towards eliminating dual-mandates) as well as permitting the Northern Ireland Assembly "to delegate the determination of salaries and allowances to an outside body" (something they plan to do after the 2011 Assembly elections).

During the 50 minutes this bill was before the Commons this afternoon - which you can watch on BBC's Democracy Live website - three Northern Ireland MPs (all of whom are also MLAs!) managed to turn up and speak: Peter Robinson (DUP), William McCrea (DUP), Mark Durkan (SDLP). When it was about money and jobs, a few managed to make it across to London to speak up.

Maybe our budding Westminster candidates will commit to better attendance in the next Parliamentary session?

Jeff Peel has some words to say on the same subject too.

Update - Jeffrey Donaldson was quickly in touch to explain:

"That is totally untrue. I was present at Westminster all day yesterday together with Peter Robinson, William McCrea, David Simpson, Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson. I attended several meetings in the House of Commons during the day and was present when the Speaker called for the vote on the Digital Economy Bill. No division occurred. As far as I know the DUP was the only local party present."

Update - The SDLP's Mark Durkan was also in the building, though not sure how much/little of the debate he sat in on. Oh, and someone turned up at the end of the third reading to vote No!


Anonymous Hero said...

forcing ISPs disclose details of customers who repeatedly infringe copyright
Correction: who are accused of infringing copyright.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...


Stephen Barnes said...

OK, here's the rub....

The Digital Economy Bill includes legislation to enable use of 'Orphan Work' - photographs which the owner can't be traced through 'reasonable steps'.

OK, fair enough. Let's assume I happen upon a 'series of images'. I examine those images and can't determine who owns them. I try asking a few people, but nobody else knows. I can therefore use them under this Bill.

Lets take this one step further. That 'series of images' are meant to be shown 30 per second, i.e. it's a movie. That makes no difference - they're just a series of images.

When I happen upon all those images within the Digital World (ie. I've downloaded unknown content from the Internet), I 'examine' them to find who owns them (ie. I view the download to find the credits in the movie). I then realise that the work is protected and discover who the owner is. It's no longer Orphaned, so I can't use it. I therefore delete it and don't use it.

Basically, the Digital Economy Bill is trying to protect commercial rights of Organisations on one hand, but it is trying to tie that other hand behind individual's backs.

As a photographer I'm glad that Clause 43 looks like it's going to be dropped, and "Orphaned" will only apply to works older than 50 years, but how will a searcher know that if they can't even work out who owns it?

The Bill contradicts itself. You can use digital media if it's a product from a £10,000 p.a. photographer, and you can't be bothered to find out who owns it, but you can't even download it if it's a movie from a multi-billion dollar industry.

Whose rights are being protected?

WiredBob said...

If Jeffery was there did he vote against a 3rd reading? I hope so based on his response to a DEbill letter I sent him last week -

"I have noted carefully the points of concern that you have detailed in your email correspondence and I agree entirely with you that some of the proposals contained within the Bill are authoritarian in nature and unacceptable. They will restrict the freedom of UK citizens within the law to enjoy access to the internet.

I will therefore work closely with my Parliamentary colleagues to see if pressure can be applied to the Government to either amend the Bill or to withdraw the draft legislation at this stage until after the General Election when it can be given more detailed consideration by Parliament."

This site is interesting -

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

WiredBob - That site is the cause of tonight's post! However, I think it only lists MPs who spoke during the six hour session (ie, made some impact on Hansard) and doesn't cover MPs who slipped in at the end.

Boaly said...

Why is this not suprising from our MPs?

Anonymous said...

Here's Hansard's record of who voted: