Lib Dems to Vote on Piracy Act Repeal

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The UK Liberal Democrat Party – one of the two parties making the coalition government – will vote on several measures during its convention to bolster the economy, and create ‘a level playing field for business’. First item on the list? Repealing the ‘Piracy’ sections of the Digital Economy Act

It’s Convention season in the UK, and that means proposals for party positions are starting to circulate. One of the more interesting ones (from our perspective) is that of the Liberal Democrat’s Policies for Information Technology group, and their policy paper “Preparing the Ground: Stimulating Growth in the Digital Economy(PDF). The Group is headed by Dr Jullian Huppert MP, who has previously introduced an Early Day Motion against the disconnection aspects of the bill.

The paper marks a return to the position the party held in the debate over the Digital Economy Act (DEAct), and covers a number of areas to increase growth in industries, and stimulate the economy. What makes it almost unique amongst proposal papers for political parties in power, is that doesn’t advocate trying to keep the status-quo of the 80s and early 90s.

In fact, the paper is a strong rejection of the position of the rights holding companies and their lobby groups, groups who have dominated the discussion, and pushed relentlessly for ever more restrictive laws. Proposals include strong network neutrality, pushing to implement aspects of the Hargreaves review that have yet to be tackled by the government, and repealing many aspects of the DEAct.

The party is clear that it’s not attempting to encourage piracy, but that methods should be fair and proportional. That means fair to all sides, including customers. One of the lauded aspects of the DMCA is the takedown provision, but said provision is currently one-sided. In 13 years, only one case has dealt with an improper take-down request, and the issue of sanctions in that case is still ongoing after 3 years. It’s clearly something they wish to avoid, which is why they worded the idea as follows.

2.1.8 We believe that rights holders should be able to issue take-down notices in a simple and automated manner, so long as these actions do not cause legitimate material to be removed; there must be strong checks and balances against abuse of this, with appropriate penalties attached.

Strong criticism is also evident for the Digital Economy Act as a whole. With the option to repeal sections 3-18 of the DEAct the following comment is made

Given this emphasis on growth and balanced legislation, we recommend the repeal of sections 3-18 of the Digital Economy Act, which relate to copyright infringement. Good legislation is built upon a robust evidential framework and a clear democratic mandate, neither of which were secured in this case. The ultimate result has been a deeply flawed and unworkable Act which stands only as the main emblem of a misguided, outdated and negative approach.

Perhaps most heartening of all, there is also a proposal for a truly independent review of the impact of file sharing on the creative industries. While it’s not perfect – the issue should be the impact on creativity and culture as a whole – it’s certainly a step forward, and the admission that claims made in the past have done so based on insufficient evidence. It also commented that some studies have shown piracy increases sales, a point we’ve noted many times before

Of course, the Lib-Dems are the minority party in the UK coalition Government, and this vote will just express the position of the party as a whole. The vote itself will not have any force of law, yet the focus on the act and its implications are encouraging, and show that at east some politicians outside the Pirate Party are not blindly accepting any piracy claims they’re told. The Lib-Dem Conference will take place September 17-21 in Birmingham. Despite some negative comments that it’s too late, we look forward to seeing what happens.

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