10,000 people call for proper debate on the Digital Economy Bill

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The Digital Economy Bill has always been highly controversial. It threatens to take away the right to a fair trial, it threatens to kill off Wi-Fi hotspots, it threatens to introduce collective punishment and places ridiculous burdens on both ISPs and their customers. It is (if the rumours that amendment 120a came directly from the desk of Richard Mollet, Director of Public Affairs at the BPI are true) quite literally a law written by the record companies for the record companies.

Despite the public outcry, and the public protests organised for tomorrow, the government are planning to rush the bill through the House of Commons and into the lawbooks with no debate! Through a process known as 'wash up', the government can rush through new laws in in the final days before an election without a proper debate. This process is supposed to allow governments to make good on their manifesto commitments, but it is being misused to ram through a flawed, biased law that would fall apart under proper scrutiny.

So far, over 10,000 people have written to their MPs demanding that the government does its job and holds a proper debate on the Digital Economy Bill. If you haven't done so already, send a letter to your MP now, and ask your friends to do the same. It's a simple, quick and easy process. You can either email the standard letter provided on that site, or write your own.

I'd like to show the breadth of opposition to the bill by quoting a letter of protest from a musician who feels very strongly about the Digital Economy Bill. I think this shows the depth of feeling on this issue, and it reinforces the fact that the BPI only represents a very, very small fraction of the music industry (incidentally, if you are interested in hearing his music, it can be found at muteqx.com):

Dear Mark Williams MP,

I’m sure by now you’ve probably heard of the Digital Economy Bill – a controversial new Bill that is being rushed through without a full Parliamentary debate. I would hope that being a Lib Dem, you are probably already opposed to that kind of thing – both the undemocratic rushing, and much of the draconian contents of the Bill too.

Industry experts, internet service providers (like Talk Talk and BT) and huge internet companies like Google and Yahoo are all opposing the bill – yet the Government seems intent on forcing it through.

But just in case you haven’t already received a thousand emails about this, and need a little more convincing, I thought I would write.

My position is perhaps a somewhat interesting one in all of this: I am a web designer by trade, and I am also a semi-professional musician. This bill is likely to have far-reaching consequences for me, even if I don’t ever fall foul of anything it contains.

If I ever DID fall foul of it, the government could likely end both of my careers in one fell swoop. This is because the Bill will allow the government (or perhaps far more likely, “The Music Industry” via the government) to disconnect people it even SUSPECTS of copyright infringement.

According to a recent leaked memo, “The Music Industry” is reported to be fully behind this Bill, and very keen to see it rushed through.

I beg to differ! The so-called “Music Industry” is little more than a cartel of extremely powerful multinational marketing companies, who have had a stranglehold on the music we can and can’t hear for decades.

There are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of small-time musicians such as myself – who have been playing in bands for years, writing and producing music and being actively involved in the cultural arts which still make the UK stand out at this moment in time – who never get so much as a look-in from “The Music Industry”. In fact, I know several hundred such people myself – maybe you even know a few? (We’re not very hard to find!)

Regardless of one’s taste in music, it is undeniable that “The Music Industry” is driven by marketing and profits alone. That is why, right now, thousands of talented, dedicated musicians and producers such as myself, are denied a living wage from our art.

Those of us who are making music which is not considered “mainstream marketable” have been unable to make a living from our music for decades already – precisely because “The Music Industry” has such a massive amount of control over everything, and is first and foremost in the business of making money for a handful of wealthy businessmen.

Unless you are in bed with them, it’s virtually impossible to make enough money doing this to put food on the table – however good you are, and however hard you work! Abuses of musicians by the powerful forces of “The Music Industry” have been occurring for decades, and are well documented. Deliberate creation of massive debts from musicians to record labels is just one of the many tactics that the big labels are only too happy to use to keep musicians as little more than wage slaves.

(Legendary rock producer Steve Albini wrote an article in the 90s called “The Problem With Music”, detailing exactly the level of exploitation which was routine at that point, and still goes on to this day. It can be found online, and is very enlightening reading if you happen to be interested!)

Luckily, thanks to the Internet, the tables are turning – unstoppably so, in fact!

It is now relatively easy for people like me to develop an online fanbase, and to get our music heard by a much wider audience, without having to bow down to the mobsters in control of the distribution channels, the marketing and the money.

In fact, my music career has never been better! In a month or so, I’m about to release my first solo album though a small independent record label – a democratically operated collective, as it happens – and it will almost certainly get picked up by a couple of thousand people in the UK, and perhaps a few more around the world.

If I am lucky, I may just about receive enough income from this to do something really exciting, like pay off a chunk of my (reasonably small, but crippling nonetheless) overdraft. If it goes exceptionally well and gets good reviews, the 20 or so of us in our collective may be one step closer to being able to support ourselves, doing what we do best: making original music!

If you will, just imagine for a moment the possibility of 20 young, creative people being able to support themselves doing something they love, operating a fully democratic company for the benefit of all involved. That sounds like the kind of thing my dreams are made of! That sounds like the kind of democratic digital economy we ought to be heading towards – and there’s no reason it couldn’t become a reality. We just need to create the circumstances for it to happen.

Whatever “The Music Industry” say, there is definitely a market for the work of people like myself – although those of us who write music do it out of love more than anything else, because it’s impossible for us to ignore such a primal urge to be creative. That is perhaps why we’re such easy targets for exploitation, and why those currently in control will do anything to stop us from being able to operate without them. (Never mind that the horse has already bolted – they’re still trying to close the stable door!)

Where am I heading with all this, you may be asking?

There are a multitude of reasons why “The Music Industry” have seen huge dents in their profits over the last decade or so. They are only too happy to blame “online piracy”, but in fact the reality of the situation is far more complicated than that.

Nowadays, it’s generally not possible for most musicians (even those on major record labels) to to make a living from selling albums. The way to making a living out of it is from touring, merchandise, and from developing a really good connection with your fans – directly, online, with no middle-men.

The major record labels are dinosaurs, whose outdated business model operates on the exploitative principles of scarcity and control. Neither of these ways of looking at things is applicable in the digital age.

Scarcity of product and the need for physical distribution is no longer very relevant. It costs peanuts for me to sell my MP3s online, and I can single-handedly achieve worldwide distribution in a matter of minutes.

Control of the distribution channels was blown open by the Internet, and yet “The Music Industry” refused to embrace it early while they had the chance.

Clearly, people will pay 99p to download a piece of music – hence the success of things like Apple iTunes – even when those same pieces of music can be found for free elsewhere. But it took Napster (an early file sharing system) and years of litigation nightmares before “The Music Industry” was forced to alter it’s business model.

They simply dug their heels in all the way, and used their massive amounts of clout to close down innovative competitors and scare consumers, in order to preserve the status quo.

“The Music Industry” do not have anybody’s best interests at heart – not least musicians or fans of music, certainly not British culture, and probably not even the British economy. They are simply interested in propping up their failed business model and ensuring their own control, for as long as it is possible to do so, using any means necessary, and with no regard for any of the cultural damage they will do in the process.

With this Digital Economy Bill, it will be considerably easier for them to do just that. If so inclined, they could disconnect (and thus disempower) someone like myself very easily – and there is every reason to suspect that this is exactly what will happen, if this bill is allowed to go through.

It is undemocratic, draconian and not in the best interests of the people of Britain.

Therefore, as a constituent, I would ask you to strongly oppose this bill, ensure proper debate over it, and do your part to help secure a real Digital Economy for Britain – one in which individuals and collectives may freely make a living for themselves, without having to succumb to the whims of an existing business cartel. Please don’t allow them to steamroller over our rights, in their battle against a truly democratic DIY music culture.

Some industries have just had their day, and either need to adapt, or be allowed to fail. “The Music Industry” as it currently stands is no exception – we musicians will be a lot better off without it, and will gladly create something far more exciting to replace it.

Many thanks for your time.

Yours sincerely,

David Silvester

This campaign is spreading far beyond the usual audience for Pirate Party and Open Rights Group campaigns. It's a chance us to let the general public know about the scandals at the heart of this bill, so we need to be spreading the word as widely as we can. Tell your friends what is going on, and ask them to write to their MPs too. 10,000 letters may not be enough.