Open Rights Group claims BBC Panorama investigation into the Digital Economy Bill did not address human rights or the future of society

News by Dan Raywood

An episode of the BBC's Panorama has looked at the challenges faced with downloading music as part of the Digital Economy Bill.

An episode of the BBC's Panorama has looked at the challenges faced with downloading music as part of the Digital Economy Bill.

The program mainly focussed on file sharing and losses to the recording industry. Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of UK Music and the former lead singer with The Undertones, said: “It is very difficult to invest money in a business where you think the work is going to be given away shortly thereafter.”

One family profiled showed that parents of three teenage children had no way of monitoring the music being downloaded over their internet connection. However musician and producer Dave Stewart claimed that it was the ‘most ridiculous thing I have ever heard as a solution to tackle the state that the entertainment industry is collapsing'. He said: “Who is as clever as the next hacker who is going to come up with a way to crack it?”

Singer songwriter Billy Bragg claimed that it was ‘totally self defeating', and compared it to taking people's record players and complaining that no one is buying any music.

Talking about the proposed law to cut off persistent file sharers, business secretary Peter Mandelson explained it was a ‘three strikes and you are out' strategy.

The programme explained that proceedings will start with a gentle letter requesting the user to stop, followed by a letter with a ‘sterner tone', while the third and final warning will be followed by the right of copyright owners to obtain a users' name and address to take legal action. This will be followed by a government right to restrict the user's broadband speed or ‘cut them off for a time'.

Appearing on programme, Andrew Heaney, executive director of strategy and regulation at TalkTalk, said: “At the end of the day there is nothing that we can do. We provide a pipe on to the internet and without turning off the internet we cannot stop people illegally file-sharing. We are happy to work with them to try and find other solutions, but our problem is that they have focussed all of their effort on lobbying government, and trying to lean on the government to come up with this oppressive regime.”

Heaney also said that if the secretary of state asked TalkTalk to cut off a user he would refuse, unless a court told them that the user had done something wrong.

People whose WiFi had been used illegally by file-sharers were also highlighted, as were flaws that would allow a person to provide a false location to prevent their true address being discovered.

Commenting on the programme on the Open Rights Group blog, Jim Killock said: “Yesterday, I debated the Digital Economy Bill in front of law students and academics. The debate could not have been more different from last night's Panorama.

“What industry lobbies frequently share is a desire to act in their own interests against clear public interests. This is the path that the BPI and rights holders are choosing to take when they demand that citizen's human rights are curtailed in order to better enforce their property rights, and claim that wider collateral damage, such as backdoor censorship, chilling effects and the death of open WiFi are acceptable.

“This perspective was curiously underplayed in the Panorama broadcast yesterday. Instead, we mostly listened to a discussion between different musicians worrying about the future of their industry.

“While that's a concern – and the central concern of the BPI – our concern is our rights, democracy, and the future of our society, which is being built on the internet. We do not withdraw the basic tool of society without the most extreme reason. We certainly do not do such a thing without a massive public and democratic debate.”

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