Thursday, April 08, 2010

Last night: the DEB passes in the Commons

And after the 3am tweetwake, the weary rise and totter towards their laptops..


Well. Much has been covered elsewhere. There is a useful crib at the Guardian, which is, I think, mainly right except for cl 18, on which see below. What can I add? First two points: one, the DEB has not actually passed yet. Yes it was voted through (in as much noted, an almost empty Commons by 189 to 47. But it still has to go through Lords this afternoon. That will almost certainly happen on the nod.

Two, "clause 18" or "s 97B" - infamously allowing court orders to be sought to block sites which may conceivably be expected to assist in copyright infringement eg Google :-) - has neither been deleted not retained. There is much confusion on this. Despite Lib Dem opposition at the eleventh hour, the government & Tories did in esence force this clause through on the whip. However the form it now takes (or will, it seems take) is that there will NOT be an amendment to the Copyright D&PAct - but instead a power is given the Minister to introduce regulations - NOT new primary legislation - to achieve this, next session.

I have already written about substantively the same clause at length before, saying it made matters worse not better, but the interesting formulation I did not highlight before is this:

The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the

granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the

internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used

for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright.

Note that "may". This doesn't have to happen. Indeed, it is specifically not to unless the measures are shown to be proportionate AND use of the internet for activities that infringe copyright is shown to be having a serious adverse effect on businesses or consumers . See subs 3 of amendment 7. No new law has been inserted into any other currently existing law. The next government - absolute majority or hung - can decide to bury this. All those MPs who wrote back saying they didn't like cl 18 - and especially the Lib Dems, if they do take the balance of power next session, who promised to take cl 18 out - this is something to consider. Indeed if no such resistance is organised at the next Parliament, especially by the Lib Dems, serious questions should be asked.

Other basic points: clause 43 on orphan works, not much liked but believed by some to be better than nothing, went, as the Tories channelled the photographer's lobby. I still sort of wonder why they have more clout than the entire rest of the non-music digital economy. (Perhaps the parties were worried if they opposed them , no one would take photos of them campaigning? :-) A few other tweaks were made. But basically the Bill goes through as per 2nd reading.

But. There still needs to be a consulation by Ofcom as to whether disconnection is really a good idea and a vote in both Houses. There still has to be consultation on whether web blocking is a good thing and a similar vote. There is still a great deal to play for here. The message to those who opposed to the DEB is not to go home with their ball - not yet anyway. Which brings me to -


In some ways this is a much brighter section. As much discussed round the blogosphere, the last two days have been something of a revelation - albeit an unpleasant one - to thousands of British people who have never stepped into the palace of Westminster or attended a hustings meeting. Via the miracles of iPlayer and Parliament TV, we have all seen the pitifully under occupied Commons debate chamber and yet the sudden flood of MPs from bars and offices when a vote is called; and via the equal miracle of Twitter, we have discussed, mocked, and revenged ourselves on those MPs and their invisible friends and financiers.

This is, ironically, the surveillance (sousveillance?) society in action: those in power who are used to being largely secluded from those governed, have found themselves watched from above, criticised and found wanting. Last night, as intelligence flowed at the speed of fibre round the Twitter network, was the most fascinating political occasion Pangloss has ever seen. This may come to be seen as the first battle of the social media vs old style democracy wars: our own Battle of Canary Wharf, if you like.

Creativity flowed, as geeks expressed their horror at apparent contempt for their views in the only way they know how : via software. See eg here, here and here. (This Slapometer is also not DEB specific but kind of fun if you've had a hard few days.)

Meanwhile, the #debill hashtag became the second busiest tag in the world (not just the UK) last night - attracting the attention not just of Brits but of people worldwide to what was going on. Tweets came in at about one a second. At least 8 times as many people tweeted on the DEB as about the general election as a whole. This is political engagement with a vengeance - just what the parties have said for years they wanted, especially from the young. Well, beware getting what you ask for, appears to be the bottom line , because these people are not happy with (non?) representational democracy. At all.

Where will this go? Internet naming and shaming of last night's rollcall has grown like topsy. One suggestion is that voters should vote against DEB yes-votes or absentee MPs where they inhabit marginal seats, as a kind of Sicilian revenge. Naturally the list of MPs this would apply to is already up there. Many are also likely to respond by not voting at all, or voting for marginal parties like the Greens. Others take the view that it is time to engage with power, not via party poitics but in online fora, such as the newly announced ORG regional fora.

Will we see one-cause or one -time MPs beginning to emerge more widely? or is UK politics too resistant to this for any headway to be made, pace the Greens, the Pirates? We will see. I almost wouldn't mind finding out myself, perhaps.

But what this DEBacle (ho ho) has indubitably shown up is (a) the techno-illiteracy of most MPs, and indeed, most front bench ministers (with a few glorious exceptions, hello Tom Watson) and (b) the regulatory capture of all major parties in this smug bankrupt Parliament by vested and cash rich interests.

One way or another, I think the DEB will go down in history as having been a turning point about a lot more things than downloading.


clarinette said...

I have another suggestion, and i believe it is a citizens right to ask Members of Parliament to face their responsibilities. They need to answer how individuals should understand and behave under this regulation.
I have my list of suggested question. I am sure they are others to add but surely, in a democratic society, representatives should be accountable to their voters/
MPs underestimate the power of social media for democracy.

chris said...

I wish, I wish, I wish that I could agree that electronic scrutiny of parliament will work (a la Tory IT manifesto wisdom of crowds) - but my LSE PhD (1998, resubmission awaited) was all about the 1996 Broadcasting Act, about which Austin Mitchell said it was "as unscrupulous a group of corporate pirates who ever held up a gravy train". That's why I tried to avoid the DEBill debate because I knew I would be enraged by its futility (as I was the last 2 evenings!). The answer is in Brussels...