Join the campaign against draconian disconnection
This is a guest post from Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, which campaigns to protect rights and liberties in the digital age
Will your MP be voting to disconnect innocent people from the internet, because of evidence that one of them may have infringed copyright?
The chances are that they will be doing exactly that, unless you take action now.
The Digital Economy Bill, being pushed by Lord Mandelson in the upper house, proposes to start off with a letter writing campaign, followed by taking infringers to court. Later, the government has left the door open to disconnect users for ‘persistent’ infringement.
Unfortunately, as Mandelson knows, actual infringers cannot be identified, only the household or business’ internet connection. Mandelson plan is the plan is therefore to hold the person paying for the internet account responsible for everyone else’s actions. So his Bill will make a library responsible for its users, a café for their customers, and a University for their students.
This madness has got a lot of institutions very worried and vocal, but as individuals we should also be complaining. After all, who is going to get punished here?
If a parent infringes copyright and gets cut off – their children’s education will suffer. If a student in digs infringes – all their fellow students are punished.
This is against basic natural justice, not least because there is an easy alternative. First off, Mandelson could propose to use fines, not disconnection. Secondly, courts could be asked if the accused are actually guilty.
But it’s also completely disproportionate to disconnect families or indviduals. Disconnection fails to recognise how much people rely on the internet. For some people, this could kill their business, or damage their education. For others, it will stop them from being able to take part in campaigning and politics. And many of these people will have done nothing wrong.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Edinburgh talking about the Digital Economy Bill with concerned citizens. Many of them were copyright academics and creative people who thought this Bill was atrocious, and wanted to do something about it.
That discussion led us to an interesting conclusion: despite many of us holding an interest in copyright, what we were concerned about had nothing to do with copyright at all. We concluded that our concern is a matter of basic human rights.
Copyright infringement is a bad thing. But we have to be realistic about the sort of offence it is: it is closest to fare evasion or trespass. These are bad things, but hardly prisonable offences. They demand financial damages, not social ostracisation.
No government should try to use draconian punishments to solve the problems of an industry. Such an approach will bring opprobrium to the industry, law and government.
If you haven’t already, please write your MP. Take action with the Open Rights Group, and help us defeat disconnection.
If disconnection starts, individuals will have to pay to access a Tribunal, who will be able to decide if the evidence of infringement is genuine and if the law has been applied correctly. Ii is irrelevant if the infringer is a third party. The impact of disconnection may well not be taken into account, the implication is that the Tribunal will consider matter on quite narrow grounds.
Thanks for this Jim – important stuff. I hadn’t fully considered the collective punishment implications of this. What worries me more is how few judges I trust to understand how important a connection is to people.