Open Rights Group To Demo Against Digital Bill

The digital rights organisation has organised a demo outside Parliament to protest against the “spatchcock” Digital Economy Bill

The Open Rights Group has organised a demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, to protest against disconnection and censorship on the Internet. The action comes after the Digital Economy Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords last week, leaving the fate of file-sharers in the hands of the Commons.

The digital rights campaigning organisation has been vocal in its opposition to certain measures the Digital Economy Bill since day one. In particular it rejects the government’s proposition to to cut off suspected illegal file-sharers and force ISPs to block pirated content.

Opponents rally against Digital Bill

Jim Killock, Open Rights Group

Earlier this month the Open Rights Group joined a group of industry executives and high profile figures in writing an open letter to the Financial Times, urging that changes be made to the Digital Economy Bill. The letter criticised Amendment 120A – which would enable courts to issue an injunction against any website accused of hosting a “substantial proportion” of material that infringes copyright. This could ultimately result in sites such as YouTube being forced offline.

“Put simply, blocking access as envisaged by this clause would both widely disrupt the Internet in the UK and elsewhere and threaten freedom of speech and the open Internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended,” they said. “We are particularly concerned that a measure of this kind as a general purpose policy could have an adverse impact on the reputation of the UK as a place to do online business and conflict with the broader objectives of Digital Britain.”

The Open Rights Group has organised the demonstration in response to the suggestion that – now that the bill has reached its second reading in the House of Commons – it is likely to enter the “wash up” process, where legislation that has not finished its passage through parliament is rushed through before parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election. This is despite one Lord calling it “a spatchcock that does part of the work it was intended to do but not all of it”.

“The Bill is technical and deep problems are unresolved,” the group said in its latest brief on the Bill. “Rushing through disconnection and website blocking would be undemocratic and an abuse of Parliamentary power; it would show contempt for back benchers and be a serious blow for the legitimacy of the legislation.”

The organisation is also encouraging people to write to their MP to protest against the Bill. “Regardless of what you do or don’t do, you could be punished for the actions of others because of laws put in place by the Digital Economy Bill,” it said.

A threat to public Wi-Fi

The warning comes after the government admitted that it would not exempt universities, libraries, and small businesses that provide open Wi-Fi services from the Bill’s copyright crackdown. Effectively the business would be held responsible for the actions of customers that use its networks, even if the hotspot is password-protected. This could potentially mean that a business or a university might be disconnected from the Internet if casual users there infringe copyright.

“Quietly, through the backdoor, allowing the use of legitimate technology has effectively been criminalised,” wrote Jim Killock on the Open Rights Group blog. “This is unreasonable and incredibly bureaucratic. This Bill is going to make life very difficult for a very wide range of users – the government’s notes admit as much.”

The demo will be held in Old Palace Yard, opposite Parliament and next to Westminster Abbey, on 24 March at 5.30pm. The Open Rights Group says it will provide placards, but urges protesters to bring some black tape to gag or blindfold themselves.

“We need to ensure that the Bill is properly debated, and that all MPs know how dangerous it is to individuals and small businesses,” it said. “If we don’t ensure that it is properly scrutinised, the Bill could pass and have severe effects on the freedom and rights of innocent people, educational establishments and small businesses alike.”

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