Digital Economy Bill [ Lords]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 6th April 2010.

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Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 6:50 pm, 6th April 2010

In common with my hon. Friend Derek Wyatt, this will be the last time I speak in the House. It would be fair to describe my feelings as bitter-sweet.

When I was a Minister, I had some input into some aspects of the Bill, but I largely inherited it from Stephen Carter. The "Digital Britain" White Paper was published in the week I became a Minister. I would like to spend a few minutes paying tribute to Stephen Carter and the work he did on that White Paper. It is unusual in government for any measure, particularly one so wide ranging and cross cutting, to be so clearly and singularly the work of one man. This one cuts across super-fast broadband, mobile telecoms, anti-piracy, radio, public service broadcasting and Ofcom. In the months I have spent on the Bill since last summer, it has became apparent to me what an extremely impressive piece of work it was.

Good government consists in surveying the scene, analysing the information, making a policy, taking decisions and implementing them clearly. I agree that the Bill, as amended, partly by me, is not so visionary a work. Given its more practical nature, that is perhaps inevitable. The White Paper, however, in the way it built coalitions, found consensus and struck balances from sector to sector, was a really outstanding and visionary piece of work. Great credit accrues to Stephen Carter for what he did.

The most obviously fractured coalition in the Carter consensus revolves around the contentious and controversial issue of illegal downloading. The advocates of illegal downloading-for that is what it is-have succeeded in painting a picture that is very seductive, but very misleading. The best way to illustrate this is by means of an old-tech linear-medium metaphor. In this metaphorical world that they have constructed, my hon. Friend Mr. Watson, who is in his place but not paying attention, is Luke Skywalker. He is the little guy, the plucky loner fighting the machine. Clay Shirky is Obi Wan Kenobi, the wise, broad, almost mystical guru figure. Peter Mandelson is obviously Darth Vader. Rather more counter-intuitively, however-this is where the metaphor begins to fracture-the evil Sith Chancellor Palpatine, the most evil universally bad figure of all, turns out to be Steven Spielberg. That is who Luke Skywalker is fighting-the ultimate rights holder, the acme of creative content ownership. When Spielberg turns out to be the ultimate evil, we know that the metaphor-otherwise quite cleverly constructed by the freedom fighters-is not just flawed, but misleading, damaging and dangerous. When Spielberg is the ultimate evil, it turns out that creativity is the enemy. It is creativity that Luke and his pals are after.

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mary branscombe
Posted on 8 Apr 2010 2:50 pm (Report this annotation)

I'd suggest that in this metaphor the role of Palpatine would actually be taken not by the owner of the copyright, who already has legal recourses (by which argument Sielberg would represent a senator such as Organa) but a music publisher such as David Geffen who is seeking to expand their powers. The arguments have been not that illegal downloading should not be dealt with but that it should be dealt with by using the sanctions already enshrined in law.

(apologies if this in fact counts as an opinion; it's intended as a correction of the metaphor)