Lord Mandelson says that he hears the concerns of Internet users. But he has not altered in his determination to pursue the protectionist demands of the music and entertainment industries.
Lord Mandelson has provided his own reply to the criticism of his plans to take over direct control of Internet copyright enforcement measures. Writing as a guest contributor The Times, in an article that looks like it was dashed off in a taxi between engagements, Lord Mandelson makes it clear that he has already taken a decision in respect ofthe copyright and piracy issue.
He ‘knows' that ‘piracy is wrong' and therefore he feels obligated to consider technical measures and the possibility of suspending people's Internet access as a sanction. He says he hears what others have to say, yet he has evidently already taken a policy decision to protect the copyright industries - even while his Department is in the middle of a policy consultation on the issue.
This is interesting, because the debate is highly polarised, and many people are trying to establish clearly, and in the public domain, what the issues are, and what public policy should be. The arguments are complex, and range across different technologies and several legal disciplines, as well as the economics of the Internet and creative industries. We have to question whether it is acceptable for Secretary of State to the power to order measures that could result in thousands of ordinary Internet users being sanctioned, when he ignores the usual policy processes.
What he doesn't get is that the Internet is not an entertainment system. It is a public communications network. The powers that he could acquire have serious implications for civil liberties, in particular for freedom of speech. Under the UK's own Human Rights Act, freedom of speech may only be restricted where there is a genuine public interest objective, and any measures must be specific and limited.
‘Technical measures' mandated to all ISPs would be unlikely to meet those criteria. Moreover, they would almost certainly be illegal under e-commerce law, which says that governments may not impose a general obligation to monitor Internet users.
His attempt to brush aside his meeting with David Geffen, head of Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks Studio, is also interesting. Surely, it is a fact that the two men were both staying with the Rothchild family? So would it not be appropriate for the Minister to make public the nature of his discussion. If he was discussing affairs of state, and being lobbied about measures which have the potential to censor the entire population's Internet access, it is in the public interest that we should know what was said.
Lord Mandelson may have read the blogs, but he hasn't read the runes.
Here is a short extract from Lord Mandelson's article in The Times
"While I am still something of a novice when it comes to streaming and downloads, I have been around long enough to know that piracy is wrong. That is why my department decided to consider strengthening proposals to tackle illegal file sharing and downloading."
The thinking behind this is clear and has nothing to do with dinners in Corfu. The Government decided to reopen the issue of suspending internet connections as a sanction of last resort against the most egregious offenders for two simple reasons.
First, taking something for nothing, without permission, and with no compensation for the person who created and owns it, is wrong. Simple as that. I was shocked to hear that as much as half of all internet traffic in the UK is for the carriage of unlawful content. If technical solutions can discourage piracy, then as a Government we are obliged to consider them. "
Opposition to Lord Mandelson's plans is growing.
An open letter to The Times was signed by entrepreneur Charles Dunstone, BT chief executive Ian Livingstone, Tom Alexander of Orange; as well as the Open Rights Group, and Consumer Focus. It is also understood that the Featured Artists Coalition oppose the measures, and that Sir Paul McCartney and Elton John are included in the list of opponents, but I have not been able to find the original statement to that effect. The Featured Artists Coalition voiced their concerns about Digital Britain last June.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009)What Lord Mandelson doesn't get about the 'Net http://www.iptegrity.com 4 September 2009.