Yet another blog post about the Digital Economy Bill

 by Martin Belam, 9 April 2010

Phil Gyford has probably written the blog post to end all blog posts about the Digital Economy Bill, but here are the bullet points I was tapping into my phone on the way home from work on Thursday:

1. Bad law is like bad code

I think one of the reasons the online community has been so vexed about the Bill is because they understand that bad law is like bad code. Sloppily written software leads to bugs and unintended consequences. Sloppily written law risks the same. Put sloppily written law in front of a load of people with an interest in code and, well, you've seen what happens...

2. The overwhelming urge to legislate

I find the whole thing a symbol of the compulsive need to legislate. For example, if someone is infringing copyright, and you can prove it, then you know what, to ape that Apple marketing phrase - there's a law for that. Currently it seems like a classic case of 'you are what you measure'. New law looks like action. Governments measure progress by the amount of Bills they can cram into a Parliamentary session - not whether they have achieved their objectives by using existing frameworks.

3. Orphan works and archives

I understand why people were unhappy about the orphan works model proposed in the Bill. However defeating it means we still have the problem that public bodies like the BFI and BBC have massive archives of video and photographic material in their archives that they currently can't release unless they can be exhaustively sure they have tracked down every possible rights holder.

And it isn't just media companies that hold archives.

I know, for example, that Tower Bridge has a massive collection of archive photos of the bridge at various stages since it was built, but without some way of indemnifying themselves against future possible copyright claims, there is no incentive for them or anyone in a similar position to digitise or release any of it.

4. The Internet can be shrill and petulant

Whilst being dismayed at the level of technical understanding shown in the Commons, I've also been dismayed by the tone of some of the response by the public on the Internet. There is a bunch of MPs who think the Internet is dangerous and worrysome and needs to be regulated to within an inch of its life. Flooding their emails and Twitter streams and threatening to hack the Parliament network isn't a strategy to win hearts and minds. Effective opposition to the Bill isn't going to be made by stamping our collective feet like adolescent freetards. Think about it. If someone comes up to you and wants to critique the most recent piece of work you've done, and starts by saying "You are a lazy, ignorant, incompetent, corrupt idiot", how likely are you to listen to their ideas?

5. There is a positive here

I always try and be a 'glass half-full' not a 'glass half-empty' person, so there is at least one positive thing that I can take out of this. Over the last few days a lot of very bright young people paid more attention to the way Parliament, politics and legislation work in this country than they will have ever done before. If they've seen the flaws in the system, they are more likely to be engaged with the process to improve the way our democracy works. That has to be a good thing.

6. What Phil said

Really. Read his post. It is much, much better.

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