Was the Digital Economy Bill Consultation a Whitewash?

Last week the Digital Economy Bill was released and included tough measures to deal with illicit file-sharing. It was preceded by a consultation period where individuals, consumer groups and ISPs voiced serious concerns over the proposals. The government seems to have completely ignored them - not so the rights holders.

Last week, details finally emerged concerning the Digital Economy Bill. In a nutshell, the bill aims to turn elements of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report into law.

Internet users will face being monitored by the music and movie industries, and their ISPs forced to pass on infringement notices based on rights holder supplied evidence alone. ISPs will also have to keep records of who gets warnings and share this information with the rights holders.

If reduction targets aren’t met, file-sharers could have action taken against them by their own ISP, including the ultimate sanction of disconnection, all this without setting foot in a court. Also on the cards is allowing changes to UK copyright law without Parliamentary oversight, which means whatever the government decides to do, it can, with no threat of being blocked. Under the influence of the music and movie industries as it is, this can only go one way.

One of the benefits of living in a democracy is that entities like the Digital Economy Bill are preceded by everyone having their say. Rights holders, Internet service providers, consumer groups and, of course, the lowly individual, were allowed to participate via the BERR consultation.

While rights holders achieved almost everything they asked for and will undoubtedly be very happy with the outcome, the government insisted last week that ISPs were also widely supporting the Digital Economy Bill. But that claim turned out to be false, with the Internet Service Providers Association saying that it was “extremely disappointed” with aspects of the proposals aimed at illicit file-sharing.

Consumer groups also submitted to the consultation, including those from Which? and BeingThreatened, a portal created to provide help and support to ISP account holders who have been wrongfully accused of infringement by copyright holders.

“We are extremely disappointed, though not at all surprised with the nature of the response the government have given. Despite the 13 page response consisting of 11 pages of summary, much of which relates to the concern over the evidential collection, due process and appropriate appeal, the government makes absolutely no mention of this in the response,” they told TorrentFreak.

Indeed, as they quite rightly point out, the only items that remain in focus are those relating to protecting the entertainment industries by the introduction of technological solutions and a 3 strikes-style regime.

“The government response fails completely to put any provisions in place to deal with mistaken allegations. Whilst there is a right for appeal, there is no consequence to a rights holder for making vexatious and false claims,” they added.

Also of concern is that the new system being put forward by the government does not trump the old system, indeed they will remain in operation together. If rights holders and lawyers such as ACS:Law wish to continue with their campaigns of sending letters and demanding huge sums of money instead, they will be perfectly entitled to do so, perhaps with the added assistance of the new information ISPs will be compelled to store.

However, what BeingThreatened find most disappointing is that despite a large opposition to the plans to deal with file-sharing, many of the dissenting voices have simply been ignored, with the government giving submissions from rights holders and their umbrella groups absolute priority.

“This does not give the majority of respondents from our community a feeling that democracy has been observed. It is clear that the consultation, at least from the government’s point of view, was nothing more than a box-ticking exercise. It looks suspiciously like there was never any intent to engage in a transparent democratic process. I am certain that our group will not be alone in these views,” they added.

The full statement BeingThreatened can be found here and all the (corporate and individual) responses to the consultation are available on the BERR website.

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