The Digital Economy Bill currently passing through the Committee Stage at the House of Lords is trying to help foster digital innovation and protect the rights of content creators. There has been significant discussion over the legislation, particularly in relation to copyright infringement such as the transfer of files to other people over the Internet without the permission of the copyright holder.
TalkTalk has been one of the most vocal voices against the plans for protecting copyright, not because copyright shouldn't be protected but because of the impact the plans may well have. Their latest release warns that 'Robin Hood' developers will neuter the bill with new applications and tools. This is something that is almost inevitable—In the digital world there is nothing like a challenge such as breaking some encryption or building an ability to hide data from others.
The Digital Economy Bill has focused on P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing technology which no doubt is responsible for a significant amount of unlawful activity, but it fails to address the key issue; namely that technical measures are unlikely to have any long term impact on the amount of illegal file sharing. Innovative programmers will develop better technology which can combined the use of encryption, proxies and distributed routing of traffic through multiple jurisdictions to make the identification of content (as perfectly legal or unlawful) as well as those engaging in unlawful copying of content an expensive, if not technically almost impossible task.
We may end up with a bill that increases costs for the music industry and service providers, which all of course filter down to consumers. It is quite possible the bill will end up being obsolete within a matter of months, or indeed we may find reports that copyright infringement has dropped, when in fact it has simply become much harder to detect.
TalkTalk raises a few interesting points to illustrate other ways in which the legislation, or more precisely the detection of breaches, can be avoided:
Of course it could be made illegal to carry out any such activities, but in order for it to be effective we would need to require licenses for anyone using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), remote desktop protocols or indeed any encryption whatsoever. Suddenly, the framework sounds quite similar to the great firewall of China.
People will always crack, hack and work around every restriction sooner or later, and the only way to deal with this problem is to ensure that rights holders provide a framework which ensures easy and legal access to digital content that is fair both to the end users and those in the music and film industries. The pricing models in the music industry have so far failed to adapt to the online world, and the Internet is too often seen as the problem, rather than a platform for a new innovative revenue stream. It is important for example, to ensure that when renting movies online, you provide the best quality versions in open formats, so those wishing to enjoy the highest quality experience are not forced into obtaining illegal copies ripped from a high definition DVDs and distributed illegally, but can enjoy this content legally at a fair price.
When asked why you might need faster broadband services, many examples cited include more video content, but the Digital Economy Bill stands a real chance of hindering rather than enabling many of these new services as there is little incentive for rights holders to ensure next generation distribution models. In the House of Lords debate today, the issue of piracy was discussion with respect to one of the recent films. One noble Lord suggested that the film's takings may have been increased by the interest raised on the Internet, rather than resulting in a financial loss.