The Digital Economy Bill passed: The internet watched live as a handful of MPs ignored democracy in their attempts to control that which they don't understand.

Yesterday we watched the 2nd reading of the Digital Economy Bill. Today we watched the 3rd reading.

In short: Democracy wasn't present. Those wishing to censor ideas have been given a most powerful weapon. Culture will suffer. Whilst creators will gain nothing.

My girlfriend and I gathered on the couch. Laptops out. Phones out. TV on. Twitter buzzing, Youtube satirising. Forums racing. People don't merely consume anymore. To just consume doesn't even make sense.

During the minuscule 2 hours the 2nd reading took one man mashed up the #DEBill twitter feed with the parliament feed onto his TV to avoid having to multitask so much. He published his work so others could do the same.

Remixing, reusing, editing.

Overnight one excellent person remixed one particularly inane part of the 2nd reading to make a very important point:

Remixing, reusing, editing.

Open letters were written. Crowd sourced lists of the MPs in attendance were pulled together.

20,000 wrote to their MPs. Thousands protested or rang MPs. #DEBill became the top trending topic on Twitter.


There are 646 MPs. About 40 turned up for the second reading. About 16 made it to the end.

The third reading has been just as bad. Almost Empty. 2 hours given to debate amendments to 50 clauses.

The first clause took 1hr. The last 49 were glossed over in the last hour.

Ten minutes before the vote labour MPs put down their drinks, pulled themselves out of the bar and stumbled in to vote for the Bill. Having listened to nothing.


WikiLeaks has been releasing hugely important videos this week. The USA has been trying to shut them down, for leaking footage of an american helicopter killing Reuters Journalists in Iraq.

John Hemming MP (Lib, Birmingham) is a member of the BPI. His money comes from media. If anyone should support the bill it should be him.

But instead he calls it 'Absurd.'

Why? Because he states that the Bill will allow the USA (or others) to claim copyright on that video and shut down the website and forbid sharers of it access to the internet. Despite it's important worth.

John Redwood MP (Con, Wokingham) agreed:

"This is really about Censorship on the Web" - John Redwood MP

The true hero was Tom Watson (Labour MP) who quickly came to be the people's champion. His criticism of the bill didn't stop with the preposterous technical issues (ip address are not fingerprints) or the equally preposterous human rights violations (guilty till proven innocent, child downloads musics - dad loses the internet he needs for his job).

He went on to point out that remixing copyrighted works is part of culture now.

His example?

The remixed Ashes to Ashes poster that Labour and the Conservatives have been having so much fun with over the last few days.

Remixing, reusing, editing.

They all fall foul of the bill they've just passed.

As do you for reading this page.

Today was a huge failure for democracy. A bill was passed, unread and unanalysed by computer illiterate MPs who didn't attend the debates.

Here are what I feel these are the most terrible consequences of the last 48 hours.

  • A bill that makes the ricockulous DMCA look sensible has passed without proper debate or democratic process.

  • The internet generation, who cares deeply about this matter was watching.
    They saw the empty parliament.
    They heard the ignorant comments.
    They saw democracy fail.
    They are not pleased.

  • Scientists, Journalists and Skeptics are working so hard to fight the abuse of Libel Laws to stifle debate and censor criticism. The existence of the Digital Economy Bill will allow so many avenues for censorship that we need to start all over again.

  • Piracy is a serious concern to the mainstream media, and yet remix/reuse of material is part and parcel of our culture today. If the bill works then MPs will make so many innocent parties criminals and it will be a disaster for the UK. But If the bill fails then they will have convinced Pirates that the Government is clueless and toothless.

  • The British Legislative process is fundamentally and comprehensively broken. And today MPs showed that in detail to an extremely internet savvy audience.

On the eve of the first true internet election, this will stand as the defining moment that summarises how out of touch the Government is with respect to the populace. I don't think they appreciate how much attention we can give them.

How difficult we will make this for them.

I will leave you with this. Any MP who watches this will leave understanding the culture that they are ignorant of - but today made illegal.

EDIT 9:59, April 8, 2010: Want to know how your MP voted? Here's a list


"Scuba" Steve said...

You apparently live in an Empire just like I do in the United States

Tor Arne said...

Great post. Outraged even if I don't live in the UK... The incompetence is staggering!

Will Brocklebank said...

Very good post - @kevinmarks has been vociferous on this issue on Twitter and in the tech community and I was impressed with the support he, & we all, had generated. But to watch it slide through to a pitifully lean audience really is galling.

Democracy in this country doesn't function right when we have processes like the "wash-up". Check out the excellent independent Martin Bell on the subject

Anonymous said...

I am lost for words. Speechless, just like the clueless MPs it seems!

Its no consolation, but we have the same level of ineptness, nay even incompetence here in Ireland when it comes to a tech savvy generation.

Only answer is to encourage people to vote, give them an alternative, allow students to vote in their colleges, take the apathy away and make it a real life thing. I'd love to see a big brother type show where the politicians are the ones under the microscope.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. You are absolutely right, and it looks like this is the kind of democracy we live in. Unfortunately, with the lobbying pressure from the industry (read as "bribes"), no one actually cares about the people. Disgraceful state of affairs.

Nick said...

Hang on. Democracy did not fail – it worked.

You may not like the outcome but that’s often the way with a representative democratic system.

If your MP did not represent your views you have the right to vote for someone else at the next election - or stand yourself in a future election.

Bradley said...

Nick, democracy didn't even have a chance to work.

The government deliberately squashed the time allowed for debate and amendments to prevent proper debate happening and this awful bill being seen for what it was. Labour MPs rebelled against their government and raised many, many valid concerns and issues with the bill, not least that it needed proper scrutiny when it was so complicated and important.

However, the valiant efforts were simply trampled on by Labour MPs cluless about the bill who voted 'Aye' because the whip told them to.

I lost faith in British democracy by watching the past two nights of coverage of the bill, and I fail to see how anyone could think our system works. When we have a government that views democratic debate with such contempt that the squeeze a process which could stretch over weeks into two hours, and when all the points raised by Tom Watson and other rebels are simply brushed aside by mindless zombies doing as they're told.

A bit of shameless self-promotion, too. I angrily blogged about my lack of faith in politics in the early hours this morning:

Lave said...

Exactly. A hugely important bill was give 4 hours of debate in an empty commons before being rushed through in the wash without any of the typical procedure.

It was a complete farce.

chris said...

I hope everyone noted how little the Tory front bench had to say (even if some elderly Thatcherites were rather magnificent). Lickspittles.

Nick said...

Bradley, I don’t want to labour (no pun) this point – but the system is working. That is, we vote for an MP on the understanding that he or she will act in our best interest.

If your MP didn’t bother to vote, or chose to follow the party line (maybe he/she agreed with the party line), or didn’t bother to turn up for the debate well, tough – get a better MP. The fact that the government limited the time for debate is not an issue – do you think the result would be any different if they spoke for two weeks on the subject?

You are arguing against the system of representative democracy. Fine – what system would you prefer?

Lave said...

The wash up is a chance to pass non controversial bills that do not need debate. This bill, whether your are for or against it, is not suitable to be passed during it,

The wash strips away the checks and balances that our parliament has in place.

It is in that sense that this isn't democratic. The Gov has pushed through a bill where MPs were complaining they had no time to read it, let alone represent their constituents. Hence undemocratic.

Marcus Povey said...

I'll keep this short. Fantastic post.

Tim said...

Nick - other than our chance at an election (where most people vote on the party they like, not the MP), what chance do we have to get rid of a useless MP? We should have the ability to kick them out whenever we want, MPs should not be forced to follow the party line, but instead be forced to debate on key issues their constituents raise with them. This isn't representative government, and just saying we should vote in someone better isn't going to work. They're all the same!

Bradley said...

Nick, I support representative democracy, but I desire more elements of direct democracy. More public consultation and consideration of our views, and, heaven forbid, maybe the odd referendum. As far as I'm concerned, MPs have failed to work for the public.

At the least, I would remove the Whipping system, as I expect MPs to make up their own minds. The chance of all those MPs agreeing with their party line on this issue was very small, the 'Ayes' were most likely as a result of the three Line Whip which was imposed.

Yes, I do think the outcome of this process could have been different had the democratic process not been trampled on by the despicable Labour government. There would be a greater chance of the sensible amendments being accepted if they hadn't had to keep being withdrawn due to lack of time. Or at least proper debate could have been had about them. Saying "It would have turned out the same" is no excuse for squashing the role of scrutiny that Parliament is supposed to fulfil.

It's easy to say "Get a better MP", but with an unfair electoral system like ours, it's rather difficult. I fully understand your argument, though - you're right. If we elected someone better, we'd be better off.

Naturally, I agree with Tim's stance that we should be able to recall useless MPs before an election.

Finally, for an example of how my view of democracy could work, have a look at Denny de la Haye, who is running on the platform of giving his constituents a vote almost all issues:

Anonymous said...

I am a nearly 40 something middle class business owner, public school and top uni educated. This is outrageous and incompetent and just another example of our leaders so out of touch with the real world in which we live.
Increasingly, and i say this with caution and despair, that the politicians police and lawmakers are so out of control then the only solution will soon be direct action.

MattWPBS said...

I want to know who the 187 who voted without attending the debate were.

Mr Sam said...

So if a kid sings ring-a-ring-a-roses with different lyrics s/he's only an upload away from juvenile hall?

Good lord.

Tony said...

Disenfranchised - without a doubt. Internet users learn and adopt more quickly and resist controls/constraints. They are also best placed to create ways of wriggling free of these constraints. These days western government send software to Iranian based dissident bloggers to hide their IP addresses - let the cat and mouse games commence! Situation - Internet and media consumers driven away from the center of our already fragmented society. More remote from the companies trying to sell them their products. Reaction? Politics less relevant. Internet activity more anonymous. Enforcing this bill will be massively flawed and the cost to authorities is not costed, understood or grasped.

Steve Leatherbarrow said...

The link posted at the end of the article is broken. The error page states "The requested object does not exist on this server. The link you followed is either outdated, inaccurate, or the server has been instructed not to let you have it"

Instructed not to let us have it so that we can't re-post it anywhere else and show people how "democracy" works incase we violate parliament's copyright, perhaps?

Fiona said...

Your link to the document showing who voted Aye or No seems to be broken.

Can get the Commons Hansard for yesterday via here, though:

(My MP didn't turn out for the vote, it seems...)

Anonymous said...

Killed Journalists that were walking around with insurgents a block away from a US convoy that had previously been under small arms fire.

Seems that everyone forgets that last part.

AtmResearch said...

I was very disappointed with the way this Bill was “Washed up” on to the statute books. It should have been fully debated before being turned into law. This is undemocratic and unfair. The Bill contains a number of draconian sections which should have been omitted completely and I was hoping this might happen during the last debate. I do not appreciate the fact that it took the support of the Conservatives to get this through either. When the two main parties in a two party system get together the result seems to be very unfair and undemocratic – where is the opposition if this happens ? The other example that springs to mind is the “Welfare Reform Bill” where a consensus was established, with the Conservatives, apparently to drive through another piece of draconian legislation.

Where is the urgency in the introduction of the Digital Economy Bill ? I’m sure the Conservatives would have introduced a similar Bill in the future if they hold power as protecting big business interests is their speciality. I always thought Labours’ was protecting small people’s interests ? Some parts of the Digital Economy Bill evoke a similar scenario to China’s great firewall which is used to restrict access to certain websites the Chinese government does not want their citizens to see. Is the intention to protect Copyright or simply to censor free speech ? It seems the dividing line may be open to question if this law is applied without due regard to individuals rights. This is Wrong.

Many blogs and websites use copyrighted material in their postings to illustrate points and report on news items connected with the subject areas under discussion. Will these blogs now be open to blocking for copyright infringement ? Many political blogs would potentially be blocked if this law is put into practice. This is basically political censorship being disguised as copyright protection. This is what they do in China.
I hope this is not what will happen because it would kill the open and free nature of the web and make the UK look like a totalitarian state run by dictators and big business.

Tali said...

Very well written and it touched on all the points I could think of, both logically and in disagreement with the bill.

I am a UK resident, and in regards to this bill, I also believe the government is broken. Allowing this bill to be passed, based on the votes of computer illiterate MP's who did not even listen to the full reading of the bill - its simply disgusting.

Luckily, the internet and its users are ever evolving, and should we start to encounter some of the 'measures' presented in the bill, i do not believe it will be very long before there are ways around then. I believe there are already a few ways they can be avoided :) unfortunately most being somewhat less than legal.

Anonymous said...

I hope, it's OK

Anonymous said...

"I hope this is not what will happen because it would kill the open and free nature of the web and make the UK look like a totalitarian state run by dictators and big business."

It will just make it official, if you haven't noticed already this is what we have. This country is no longer for the people or of the people its ran at the expense of the majority of people for the minority (super-rich). It was only a matter of time before they did this - facebook etc is all just marketing for the big boys and thats all they see the internet as. One big sales pitch. Any notions of sharing, piracy, freedom of speech, pornography - forget about it, those days are coming to and end, and it was only a matter of time before they did. Scumbags will reap what they sow one day when all the fake capital collapses around the world, only problem is so will us.

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