Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Yesterday's debate

is now up on Hansard and will, i think, be a fascinating historical record of parliamantary attitudes to technology c 2010 :-)

From Austin Mitchell, Lab MP's speech:

I heard all the Secretary of State’s answers about how the House of Lords has devoted its usual frenzied, hectic consideration to the Bill, full-time, for months and months, and how the Government have conducted a full consultation with all the outside interests. However, I am suspicious, because if it has had such full consideration, why are so many of my hon. Friends upset at the speed at which it is going through? Why am I getting more e-mails than I can competently deal with now that I am in half-campaigning mode, saying, “This is a bad Bill. Stop it. We don’t want it and we are threatened”, from people more active and interested in the internet than I am?

The e-mails are mainly from young people, who feel threatened by the Bill. They may be wrong, they may not be threatened by it and the procedures for cutting off their access through the service provider may be fair, just, wholesome and very effective, but they still feel threatened. It will take time to explain things to them, and to examine their worries and discuss them. When I have replied to their e-mails, their answer has always been, “This is a Bill on which the big boys, the big corporations and the big businesses, which are now involved in the internet, have all been well consulted. Their voices have been well heard and they have dominated the consideration of the Bill. It is far too favourable to them and far too unfavourable to the little guy.” The little guy—in particular, the people indulging in harmless file sharing out of interest—is how the people writing to me see themselves.

That is a complex argument, but it is true that the big corporations and big business have loud voices and that the House of Lords is a natural forum for the expression of those loud voices and opinions. When discussing the Bill we have talked about peer-to-peer transfers, but peer-to-vested-interest transfers are a major part of the process.

...Logic says to the Government and the precautionary principle says to me, “If it is doubtful, if you are not sure, if you have not consulted and if there are voices that need to be heard, do not rush into doing anything. In particular, do not rush into legislation.”

and from the ever excellent Tom Watson, Lab MP:

I know that the worthy intention of those on all three Front Benches is to defend our creative industries. Everyone in this Chamber wants to do that... However, more enlightened members of both main parties privately tell me that they know that the copyright measures in this Bill are nonsensical. They say that they will give the big publishing interests that dominate the debate in this country a period of respite, during which they can compose themselves while they consider their next moves in the internet age.

I admire the Bill’s motives in respect of copyright, but there is an opportunity cost associated with defending old publishing interests. Innovations will not stop in our competitor countries while we give the UK record industry time to think.

There is a less charitable, more sinister view of this Bill. I readily admit that it might play into the conspiracy theories so ably portrayed by the previous two speakers, but the attempts to create artificial scarcity with information goods represent a second enclosure movement in this country. The intangible assets of our society are being packaged up in a contemporary expansion of intellectual property.


It is hard to describe to colleagues how our digital natives—the people who entered the world of work without thinking of the internet as a “new” technology—think about the anachronistic ideas that underpin the thinking behind this Bill. They understand the power and the beauty of the serendipitous hypertext link, and believe that it is part of human nature to take an idea and use it—to play with it and remix it into something new, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) described.

If hon. Members are beginning to think that I have taken leave of my senses with that comment, they should think about the Gene Hunt poster. What are the barriers to entry for young people who want to make a political statement? To take control of two images, they would have to sign a cumbersome licensing deal so that they could remix them and thus spark a debate, but in fact the remix event that took place caused thousands of young people to talk about the future. If we do not accept that that represents a cultural change in Britain, we will be forever doomed to holding debates that will appear merely futile to those young people.

ps has there ever before been a Parliamentary debate with quite so many mentions of Star Wars?? Not to mention Charles Stross, C Shirky and Christopher Brookmyre..!

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