Lib Dems make the Digital Economy Bill even worse

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The government's Digital Economy Bill has just got even worse:

Imagine that, in the Summer of last year, you had been following the MP's expenses scandal and heard that The Telegraph was publishing a rather less redacted version that MP's were prepared to give us. Interested, you navigated your way to www.telegraph.co.uk only to find it was not responding. After some searching around and asking friends you discover that the website has been blocked by most major UK ISP's. It seems a junior official in Parliament had asked them to block The Telegraph for copyright violation.

Just this could happen as a result of amendment 120A to the Digital Economy Bill that was passed yesterday in the House of Lords.

Amendment 120A was proposed by Lord Tim Clement-Jones, a Liberal Democrat life peer. The amendment could provide a lot of lucrative work for intellectual property law firms whose clients want to crack down on free speech; law firms such as DLA Piper, who -- entirely coincidently -- Lord Clement-Jones works for.

Incidently, many Liberal Democrat supporters, such as Cory Doctorow, don't like the stance the Lib Dem have been taking in the Lords:

This Wednesday, I woke up to find an urgent email in my inbox from the Open Rights Group, letting me know that Lords Razzall and Clement-Jones, both Liberal Democrat peers, had introduced a web censorship amendment to Peter Mandelson's Digital Economy Bill.

I had a moment's confusion, because I assumed that the LibDems (a party I belong to) would have proposed a bill against web censorship. But no, our peers had put forward an amendment that would allow courts to order all of Britain's ISPs to shut off access to specific sites if these sites were found to be involved with copyright infringement.

On the prominent blog Liberal Democrat Voice, Lord Clement-Jones tries to justify his position, without much success, if the comments are anything to go by. Here's a sample of them:

There may be some problems with copyright. But rushing to nail up such potentially draconian powers against Internet users is a hopelessly wrong way of tackling it. We are a party that is instinctively for freedom and against censorship. How can you have lost sight of this? -- (from Alex Wilcock, Former Vice-Chair, Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee)

we don’t need or want a web-blocking law

*looks around for another to party to vote for in May*

Congratulations guys! You’ve just lost the vote and trust of thousands of UK geeks.

I joined the party last week. This really isn’t what I was expecting to see. 

The only good thing about this sort of legislation is that it galvanises the clever people behind the internet to prove them unenforceable

A big mistake that will alienate a large number of well informed younger people to whom we should be strongly appealing at this election. This includes me.Your amendment will help destroy the UK’s ability to compete even more than the current unamended Digital Economy Bill. 

This amendment is madness.

Horrifying rights-trampling idiocy worthy of China or Australia.

If I had wanted to I could have quoted plenty more in the same vein. Incidently I couldn't find a single comment agreeing with Lord Clement-Jones. So it's not surprising that twenty-five Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidates have penned an open letter asking the party to think again on the Digital Economy Bill:

In practice these amendments would still lead to a situation that is incompatible with our principles of freedom and fairness.

Giving the power to block whole sites, in the world of user-generated content, is both draconian and unworkable.

Using the courts runs the same risk as the libel laws, of empowering the rich and well-connected to close down comment from those who may have right on their side, but cannot afford to contest cases.

By encouraging self-censorship to avoid possible penalty, this legislation could act perniciously against free speech in a free society.

We fear that these amendments take a public position that is at odds with our Party’s values, our other policies, and the reality of the digital environment.

If the Lib Dems won't see sense on this issue, maybe their disaffected members should join a party that does care, and will always continue to care, about digital rights issues: the Pirate Party.

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