The Digital Economy Bill has become one of the most heavily debated topics on Liberal Democrat Voice. Posts related to it often generate a large number of comments, but today’s have done far more than that.
A bit of background first for anyone new to the story or catching up on it. The Digital Economy Bill has generated a lot of controversy for its proposals to do with copyright and illegal filesharing, with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group urging the party to oppose it in a guest post. Some of those issues I took up in an interview with Don Foster, reported on here.
In the last day or so there has been particular focus on an amendment put forward in the Lords by Tim Clement-Jones and Tim Razzall, the reasoning for which Tim Clement-Jones explained in a post here but which journalist and author (and Lib Dem member) Cory Doctorow disagreed with.
Tim Clement-Jones has responded to many of the criticisms made of the amendment in an interview earlier today with ZDNet, including this answer on the risks of censorship:
Do you think your amendment might need further tweaking to prevent it being used for some kind of censorship?
If there are rough edges to the amendment, we’ll certainly look at those. If people have genuine amendments they want to put forward, I’d be perfectly happy to look at that, and I hope the government would too. But I don’t believe, in its current form, there is any possibility of censorship.
In the latest move in the debate within the party, a group of Liberal Democrat prospective Parliamentary candidates have penned an open letter:
We write to express our concern at the amendments to the Digital Economy Bill tabled by Liberal Democrat peers with Conservative support today. The amendments would allow the High Court to issue injunctions to ISPs to block sites for copyright infringement.
We are proud of the record of Liberal Democrat peers in taking swift action, including working across party lines, to defeat some of the worst legislation to come out of this Labour government. We applaud the intention to give parties accused of copyright infringement the protection of the courts rather than subjecting them to the political whim of the Secretary of State. But in practice these amendments would still lead to a situation that is incompatible with our principles of freedom and fairness.
Giving the power to block whole sites, in the world of user-generated content, is both draconian and unworkable.
Using the courts runs the same risk as the libel laws, of empowering the rich and well-connected to close down comment from those who may have right on their side, but cannot afford to contest cases.
By encouraging self-censorship to avoid possible penalty, this legislation could act perniciously against free speech in a free society.
We fear that these amendments take a public position that is at odds with our Party’s values, our other policies, and the reality of the digital environment.
As prospective MPs, we ask our current Parliamentary colleagues to think again.
Bridget Fox, Islington South & Finsbury
Julian Huppert, Cambridge
Martin Tod, Winchester
Farid Ahmed, Walthamstow
Jon Ball, Ealing Central & Acton
Alan Beddow, Warwick & Leamington
Mike Bell, Weston-super-Mare
Duncan Borrowman, Old Bexley & Sidcup
Sal Brinton, Watford
Belinda Brooks-Gordon, West Suffolk
Alan Bullion, Sevenoaks
Adrian Collett, Aldershot
Andrew Dakers, Brentford & Isleworth
Sue Doughty, Guildford
Helen Duffett, Romford
Merlene Emerson, Hammersmith
Gareth Epps, Reading East
Ed Fordham, Hampstead & Kilburn
Steve Goddard, Oxford East
Simon McDougall, Bognor Regis & Littlehampton
Jo Shaw, Holborn & St Pancras
Sandy Walkington, St Albans
Peter Welch, Southend West
Munira Wilson, Feltham & Heston
Simon Wright, Norwich South
From the conversations I’ve had with key people in the party, there is clearly a great willingness to try to find a line that has broad support in the party so the letter, combined with the interview answer quoted above, suggests there may be more news to come.