Digital Economy Bill [ Lords]

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:24 pm on 6th April 2010.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 7:24 pm, 6th April 2010

My hon. Friend and I could debate the historical complexities of the enclosure movement, but I have only four minutes left. Perhaps we could have that discussion afterwards.

The big publishing industries tell us that an expansion of property rights and enforcement are essential to fuelling progress and continuing innovation in this sector. They believe that we need more copyright laws, a scaling up of enforcement, more policing of the internet, and a greater intolerance of that most human of traits-sharing.

This Bill, outrageously in my view, is going to be forced through in the wash-up. When it is passed, however, there will remain some unpalatable truths that the next Government, and advocates for the position of big publishing in Government, must deal with. The internet exists, and it is not going away. Whatever technical measures are taken to enforce scarcity will fail. Even in China, where there are 30,000 internet police, people are sharing ideas, information, news, music and art at an ever increasing rate.

It is hard to describe to colleagues how our digital natives-the people who entered the world of work without thinking of the internet as a "new" technology-think about the anachronistic ideas that underpin the thinking behind this Bill. They understand the power and the beauty of the serendipitous hypertext link, and believe that it is part of human nature to take an idea and use it-to play with it and remix it into something new, as Peter Luff described.

If hon. Members are beginning to think that I have taken leave of my senses with that comment, they should think about the Gene Hunt poster. What are the barriers to entry for young people who want to make a political statement? To take control of two images, they would have to sign a cumbersome licensing deal so that they could remix them and thus spark a debate, but in fact the remix event that took place caused thousands of young people to talk about the future. If we do not accept that that represents a cultural change in Britain, we will be forever doomed to holding debates that will appear merely futile to those young people.

Mr. Whittingdale-the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee-and I often look in different directions on policy, but we agree solidly that making legislation on the hoof, as we are doing now, lets the law of unintended consequences kick in. The hon. Gentleman talked about legitimacy. I shall quote from one of the great copyright debates of 1841. Talking about reform of the then law, the great Lord Macaulay said:

"At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side."

That might be true.

"Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouth of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men of a character very different from that of the present race of piratical book-sellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as Robinson Crusoe"-[ Hansard, 5 February 1841; Vol. 56, c. 356-7.]

I end there, because I am nearly out of time. There is no legitimacy in these measures, and the Bill will be honoured in the breach.

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