It took BBC reporter-comedian and campaigner Mark Thomas just 10 minutes on the BBC2’s Culture Show to rubbish government plans to stop online piracy through the Digital Economy Bill now going through parliament.
Thomas did the right thing, asking those for and against the controversial Clause 17, which allows the government to change copyright law without refering to Parliament and denies a judicial process to those accused of copyright theft, to make their case.
Treasury minister Stephen Timms, now the bill’s sole government sheepdog since culture minister Sion Simon quit, made a brave defence, saying the law provided “flexibility” to cope with new technology. Former lead singer for The Undertones Feargal Sharkey (website youlittlethief.com) argued for the copyright holders saying 85% of professional musicians earned less than £15,000 a year and were losing out to illegal file-sharers.
Folk singer and tax protester Billy Bragg said illegal file-sharing might be costing the top acts a bit, but the internet was the only way new and smaller acts could get noticed. He said the ruckus was just because the music industry was embarrassed by unsigned acts becoming popular without their help.
Anita Coles of civil rights group Liberty said that as written, the bill extended minsters’ powers beyond copyright. Any downloaded material that ministers considered objectionable could lead to users being cut off, she said.
In the end, said Thomas, the pirates would continue to pirate and the creatives would continue to create. The bill, if it became an act, would be just one more thing for both to work around.