The Creative Coalition Campaign’s Guardian ad, deconstructed

Today, in the Guardian, the Creative Coalition Campaign published an advertisement urging MPs to vote for the Digital Economy Bill. An ad from the Open Rights Group (with which I am involved) and 38degrees also appeared, urging MPs to vote against. The difference? We’re standing up for people’s rights to due process, for constitutional propriety and for people’s digital liberties. They’re standing up for retrograde legislation to protect their own interests, at the expense of ours. And they’re not being very honest about it, either.

Today marks a critical day for the UK’s creative industries, as the House of Commons will debate the Digital Economy Bill. If passed, the Bill will provide urgently needed support for our creative talent and the businesses which have made the UK one of the leading creative economies in the world.

Indeed. A day where, after an afternoon’s discussion, a bill will be voted through the Commons for a committee stage lasting just a few short hours — the wash-up. Where the outcome will be pre-determined by the party leaders and whips, making back-room deals, out of sight of the public. This in place of a detailed process of scrutiny which usually takes days.

The digital age and high-speed broadband have brought a host of exciting new services, but what is holding us back is having to compete with illegal file-sharing conducted on a vast scale.

Is it? Really? Online sales of music now exceed CD royalties. Spotify gained 9 million users in six months last year. An 800% increase.

At what point will legislators and the general public look at the numbers and conclude that the record industry is just wrong, or lying? You cannot on the one hand claim that the Internet is a fundamental threat to your business, and on the other, report increasing revenues and massive growth. The two cannot be reconciled.

Considering that all this money is being made in spite of the record industry’s crippling conservatism and onerous demands upon innovators, it’s hard not to wonder how much more money they could be making if they’d just get with the programme.

The Digital Economy Bill is a sensible approach to tackling online piracy, focusing on education of consumers through notifications which must include advice to the internet account holder together with information on legal services. Only if technical measures are found to be necessary and are subsequently introduced would they be applied to the accounts of those who repeatedly ignore notifications warning them to stop illegally file-sharing.

Letters and education are positive things. I don’t think anyone objects to them. It’s the technical measures that are unacceptable. The CCC disingenuously insert an “if” into that paragraph (emphasis mine). Given that the Government have set an unreachable 70% target for reduction of unlawful file-sharing, it’s beyond doubt that they will be found to be necessary.

And then what? Hidden behind comfortable words like “technical measures” and “applied to the accounts” are serious extra-judicial sanctions; collective punishments that will be debilitating. Is it right to disconnect entire families from the internet because someone in the household persistently downloads Metallica albums? What if that connection is used to run a business? What happens to their income? What happens when the kids can’t do their homework and the parents can’t pay their bills?

I no longer have a cheque book. Do you? I no longer have a yellow pages. I no longer receive paper statements for my bank accounts or utilities. The Internet is a critical utility, as vital as electricity and gas. So says Gordon Brown. We don’t disconnect the water supplies of people who flout hosepipe bans, or the electricity of people who grow weed in the attic.

Of course, as part of this process alleged infringers will have access to a fair, fast and effective appeals process. Surely, this is a much better outcome for consumers and reatives than the current sanction of court actions against individuals for damages?

Fair, fast and effective? That’s a bit of a reach. A fair system does not presume guilt, strip you of due process and then restore bits upon payment of a fee. A fair system cannot be established on the back of dubious methods for collecting evidence that have been comprehensively rubbished in other jurisdictions.

The UK’s creative businesses now contribute economic output of at least £60 billion per annum and account for 1.8 million jobs in the UK; however, according to a report launched this month by TERA Consultants, more than 250,000 jobs could be directly at risk if immediate action is not taken against the huge growth in online piracy.

Again — this doesn’t gel with the reality that online revenues are rising, despite the record industry’s remarkable lack of nous in failing to create an environment that encourages new and innovative services to arise. That same report, highlights a 1130% rise in digital revenues between 2004-2008, and a 49% drop in physical sales. And a 228% increase in video on demand. In total, there’s a 13% fall in revenues — due, apparently, to a drop in filmed entertainment revenues.

So, why haven’t they made an iTunes for TV, and seen a 1130% rise in revenue there, too? God knows. I don’t.

We must not let this opportunity pass.

A telling line. What opportunity is that? The opportunity, perhaps, to squeeze this bill through the legislature while the majority of MPs aren’t paying attention?

Opponents of the Bill have tried to block its progress through a campaign that distorted the truth about the Digital Economy Bill.

I don’t think so. I think the lies and spin are blowing in precisely the opposite direction. Hopefully, people will be able to tell the difference. Hopefully, this is one battle that corporate lobbyists won’t win.

In reality, however, the Bill is a sensible and much needed response to what has become an unacceptable situation for those whose livelihoods depend on the success of the creative industries.

In reality, the creative industries have long been making their own bed, and are now lobbying for laws that stop them having to lie in it. It’s Sony vs Universal all over again, but bigger. Why they and our politicians are unable to see this is mystifying. As usual, I suspect a heady mix of groupthink and ignorance is to blame.

In any case — we, who can see, need to fight the good fight. So go and join the Open Rights Group, and help fight for a Digital Economy Bill that makes sense.


Updated to add: And, on the very day that the bill has its second reading in the Commons, this press release from the BPI arrives in my feed — about how great things are and about how their wonderful online services are making so much money. I shit you not.