Don Foster on the Digital Economy Bill: carrot, pause and then stick

Yesterday Don Foster (Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary) kindly gave over some time to talk about his views on the Digital Economy Bill and the line the party is taking. It’s a topic I’ve often covered, particularly the question of the balance between carrot and stick in responding to internet piracy. Should the response be making it easier for people to buy legal content and a move to new business models (the carrot) or should it be a crackdown based on the existing copyright rules (the stick)?

Don Foster’s answer was that the carrot should be tried first, the situation reviewed and then only if necessary the stick should be applied to – though he was clear that he was a strong supporter of also applying the stick if it proved necessary.

He was critical of the music industry and others for failing to keep up with the changing world they are operating in, talking of the “failure of the copyright owners” and “they must share a large part of the blame” for the situation they find themselves in. Don also said that basic legal principles such as innocent until proven guilty must be preserved, which is why the party has opposed many of the details of the initial Digital Economy Bill.

Don also stressed the importance of the review that has to take place before the “technical measures” in the Bill (i.e. throttling people’s internet connections or cutting them off) can be introduced, seeing it as a chance to review how the carrot of new business models and persuasion have worked.

Don Foster particularly praised business models such as that of Spotify and the experiments being made to let people have access to a catalogue of works in return for monthly subscription payments.

Only if these approaches don’t work would he then back the introduction of the technical measures, seeing them as then being essential to protecting the revenue which generates and sustains creative content.

Based on the many amendments accepted by the Government to their original proposals (especially over how the technical measures might work), he is now broadly happy with the filesharing part of the Bill with one important exception: Clause 17. Even after the amendments made to it, it still gives future Secretaries of State huge powers to shape important legislation.

Finally, as it’s back in the news I asked Don Foster about his views on an AV referendum. He prefers AV to first past the post as it allows people to cast their first preference for the person they most want and as it means people have to get the broad support of 50% + 1 of the voters to win. But, “AV is quite categorically not a proportional system” and is inferior to STV.

So his first preference very much is for a referendum on STV but if forced to choose, he prefers AV to first past the post.

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