A friend of mine recently received a letter from the UK House of Commons addressed to him, and while he was happy to find out that he was not being told that he was under suspicion of being a terrorist or the government was disappointed in his taste of dirty sites on the internet – he was shocked to find that the letter was from his local MP and a forwarded response from the Minister for Culture, Communications, and Creative Industries in regards to his position on the Digital Economy Act.
This friend of mine, along with thousands of others, had filled out a petition against the anti-freedom legislation known as the Digital Economy Act. The exact legislation he was asking his MP to support was EDM 1913 to tell parliament to reverse the DEA (See Here For Details). So what was the response of Labour Party‘s Madeleine Moon?
Dear Mr [Name],
Re: Early Day Motion 1913 on Restrictions to Internet Access
Thank you for your email in support of EDM 1913. EDM 1913 concerns powers to restrict internet access in cases of repeat infringement of copyright infringement and proposed powers to block specific websites that facilitate copyright infringement or which incite or promote extremism.
I do not sign EDMs, because I do not believe they are an effective means of raising issues in Parliament. Over 2000 have been tabled in this parliamentary year, costing millions of pounds to administer, on subjects as trivial as the engagement of Frank Lampard to Christine Bleakley.
The EDM primarily called on the relevant committees in Parliament to take note of a report by Frank del la Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression at the United Nations. It focused on his criticisms of current UK policy related to restrictions on internet access and the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee had actually instigated an inquiry into intellectual property earlier this year, but had halted it in the light of the ongoing legal action by ISPs against the Digital Economy Act. The Committee includes among its members Tom Watson MP, who has consistently campaigned on this issue and who I am sure will already have brought the report to the attention of other members.
In his report, Mr de la Rue specifically contrasted interfering with an individuals general access to the internet to measures that “deny users access to specific content on the internet” (Paragraph 78). While he is clearly opposed to any measures that cut a particular user off from the internet entirely, this is different from the case of specific websites being blocked. I have previously written to the Minister responsible for this area of policy in order to pass on concerns that constituents have raised relating to the blocking of specific websites that facilitate copyright infringement. Please find enclosed a copy of his response for your information
The Digital Economy Act 2010 included a provision for the Secretary of State to introduce an order that would permit, in some circumstances, the Government to make tell an isp to restrict a persons internet access, subject to appeal. No such order has been introduced into Parliament. If and when it is introduced, it would be subject to debate and a vote in Parliament and there will be opportunity for Parliament to amend any order made.
There are legitimate concerns about the use of powers granted under such an order. Mr de la Rue specifically raised the importance of decisions about restrictions on internet access being overseen by “a body which is independent of any political, commercial, or other unwarranted influences” (Paragraph 70). Ofcom would have the responsibility for regulating the use of powers to restrict internet access under the DEA and is, I think, an appropriately competent and independent body.
Copyright infringement online does need to addressed. The UK’s economy is increasingly reliant on the “knowledge economy” including the creative industries, and increasingly copyright infringement costs these industries hundreds of millions of pounds per year. While the creative industries undoubtedly have to change their business models in the face of a dramatic change in the way that people consume media, no sustainable business model can involve intellectual property being stolen on a large scale. It is important that we have the legal framework necessary to ensure that we tackle such theft.
There are reports of “secret” discussions at the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport to instigate a self-regulatory regime to block websites accused of distributing copyrighted material. I am not aware of the details for any regime that may be being discussed, but it is not unusual for ministers to have meetings with relevant third parties while considering potential policies. Parliament should have the opportunity to debate any policy that is put forward by the Government and I will be supporting alls for any self-regulation regime to receive scrutiny.
If you have any comments or questions related to these issues, please do not hesitate to get in contact with me.
Madeleine Moon MP
This letter was also attached, as mentioned above.
Thank you for your letter of 29 March enclosing correspondence from your constituents expressing concerns about website blocking to combat copyright infringement.
I can confirm that the Government has hosted discussion between copyright owners, Internet Service Providers and intermediaries on issues around self regulatory site-blocking to tackle the widespread problem of copyright infringement, which industry estimates costs them £400 million a year. However I should emphasise that this is an industry initiative which the Government is observing with interest.
I am aware that there are a number of technical issues which would need to be addressed if such a scheme were to be made to work effectively, and I appreciate that there are methods to evade blocking techniques which could be employed by websites determined to infringe copyright.
However, this does not mean that a site-blockig scheme might not make a significant contribution to discouraging copyright infringement. After all, many users of infringing sites may be unaware that the sites they are viewing carry content unlawfully, and they may find it very useful for such unlawful sites to be less readily available. Therefore, I continue to believe that there is value in exploring these options.
I understand that your constituents have concerns about the impact that an industry-led site-blocking scheme might have on consumers. The Government would expect that any such scheme would take due consideration of consumer rights and concerns, and would also colearly need to be established within the existing legal framework and be compatible with UK and European legislation. I should add that we intend to invite consumer representative groups to participate in any future discussions that the Government hosts on the issue.
Ed Vaizey MP
Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries
They are not blocking you from going on the internet to punish you, it’s to help you learn that the website you are visiting may contain content that is “unlawful”, even though it may be the source of your Ubuntu distro, content from vo.do, or other completely free-to-share content. Also don’t worry they know that media industries need to adopt a new business model, but they are still going to abusively uphold the old one.
So what do you think? Waste of tax dollars sending out these letters? Good on the government for at least responding?