MP: it will take two years to fix Digital Economy Act
Eric Joyce believes it's time for rights holders to "accept some adjustments" to the Digital Economy Act
It will be two years before the Digital Economy Act (DEA) is reworked into a useful piece of legislation to battle piracy, according to a Labour MP.
The DEA was passed last year, during the wash-up phase before the General Election, amid claims that rights-owner lobbyists helped write large sections of the code.
Since then, it's been targeted by campaigners and ISPs. TalkTalk and BT won a judicial review, which is set to wrap up today in court, while MPs and Lords have struggled to make the legislation work.
Eric Joyce, Labour MP for Falkirk and chair of the Digital Economy All Party Parliamentary Group, says it's going to take time to fix the problems created by rushing the legislation through, in a frank interview with PC Pro.
Q. Will the DEA ever be a useful piece of legislation, or should it be scrapped?
A. I think in a year or two it will be useable, but I think it will be through experience gained through the application of the Act.
If you rush legislation through the Commons there will be gaps and problems with it
There was a big gap in legislation across the whole area, and it [the DEA] covered a whole lot of less sexy areas that we don’t talk about as much, but there was a sense that there would be a little rough and readiness about it, and after they would go back and address things. And I think that, more or less, that's what's happening.
To be fair to both Labour and Conservatives – I disagreed with both when it went through – that was kind of the message: we just needed to get it through.
It’s quite clear that there were some arguments that were used when the legislation was going through that were nonsense. To be honest, I think Labour could have done better, and listened more.
I think Peter [Mandelson] actually wasn’t that clued up, and it went through when he was also running the Labour campaign and he was the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, so he was making all sorts of Government decisions outside of BIS [the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills], and I think frankly he listened to some arguments, made a decision, went away and let the rest of us take the ball and go with it.
Because both sides agreed, it just went through with these various flaws in it. As Lord Clement-Jones rightly pointed out, it [the DEA] was well scrutinised in the Lords, but it wasn’t in the Commons.
And my instinct is that minsters and now shadow ministers all accept that if you rush legislation through the Commons there will be gaps and problems with it.
Q. What changes do you expect?
A. I think there will be significant amendments, and my instinct is that amendments will take account of reality in a way the original Act didn’t.
The Government won’t rip it apart, but there will be significant amendments, and it will have to be through practise and experience and seeing where the flaws are.
Q. Is the Government now more aware of what's technically possible when it comes to preventing piracy?
A. At the moment talking to ministers and rights holders, it looks to me like they’re pretty pragmatic about what’s technically possible.
When it [the Government] passed the law, the BPI [music rights lobby group] was very influential about what it would look like, and now ministers and officials are, for example, asking: "is web blocking possible, and would we be able to do it? If it is, who’s going to pay for it – it’s not going to be us."