In which the BPI threaten to sue me.
Last night I was fortunate enough to find myself addressing the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Digital Economy Act. Eric Joyce MP managed to bring together a diverse group of people from all sides of the debate for a (mostly) civil discussion on the Act, its limitations, and potential problems.
This was exactly the sort of discussion which should have taken place before the bill became law. Sadly, we're left with trying to correct an extremely illiberal and technically infeasible piece of legislation.
I'll recount the highlights to the best of my memory - any corrections or clarifications gratefully received.
Representatives of the BPI - a trade group who claim to be the "voice of the UK recorded music business" - were in attendance.
The BPI made an extraordinary claim that this act isn't even needed. They were confident that existing laws would be enough for them to pursue copyright infringement. They weren't challenged on this statement - why lobby for a bill if you don't need it?
The BPI also claimed that their methods or evidence gathering are robust and proven in the high court. I can't find a good source for this claim - but, again, why lobby for a bill they didn't need.
The representative from FAST seemed to say that they were speaking for the entire software industry. Many of us don't mind our code being shared freely. Having said that, FAST did make some good points about how Open Source derived a lot of its protection from strong copyright laws.
Representatives from libraries made an excellent point about their liability. There seems to be no definition of responsibilities - are libraries communications providers? Are they liable for what their users get up to?
Taking On The BPI
Not being a professional lobbyist - nor representing anyone other than myself - I was surprised to be allowed to address the room.
I made an unprepared and impassioned speech about the one sided nature of the bill. Others will corroborate or correct, but the gist of what I said was...
- This bill is massively one sided.
- There has been no lobbying (or donations) by regular citizens - only by corporate interests.
- The bill contains no penalties for incompetent or malicious prosecution.
- ACS Law has already drawn the ire of many consumer groups for sending threatening letters with no apparent basis in fact.
- If I can be cut off the Internet after three accusations, why wont BPI members be cut off after three incorrect prosecutions?
- Given the criminal nature of the BPI, why should we trust them to bring prosecutions in a fair or just manner?
- Rather than relying on private enterprise to pursue these cases - why can't the alleged copyright holders go through the normal legal channels?
One of the ways you know you've hit a nerve in a conversation is with the ferocity of the reply...
The response from the BPI was swift and harsh. To he best of my recollection they said
"if you were to write those allegations in a newspaper, we would sue you."
In my haste, I had (erroneously) stated that the BPI was guilty of massive abuses of trust and had operated an illegal cartel which had been convicted of price fixing.
Crikey! Was I about to rely on Parliamentary Privilege extending to random blokes sitting in a committee room?
In 2002 the following record companies were fined a combined $143 million for illegal activity:
Sony Music - member of the BPI
Warner Music - member of the BPI
EMI Group - member of the BPI
BMG Music - now a part of Sony. I'm reasonably sure BMG were a member of the BPI at the time.
Vivendi Music Group - not a member of the BPI, although its subsidiary Universal Music is a member.
So, I had erred. The BPI has never sent a threatening letter. The BPI has never engaged in price fixing. The BPI - which is entirely funded by its members - has never engaged in illegal activity.
I am happy to set the record straight.
- Please, respond to Ofcom's consultation.
- Write to your MP and tell them of your concerns.
- Join the Open Rights Group.
As I was taking the photos you see in this piece, a very polite policeman told me photography wasn't allowed. While normally one to argue the toss on such matters - who knows what crazy laws protect Parliament. As it happens, as soon as his back was turned, everyone started snapping pictures anyway.