There were many reasons to believe that the UK would not be seeing any three-strikes legislation against file-sharing. First, the European Union had declared that it was a bad idea. Second, HADOPI had been declared unconstitutional in France. But most importantly, the Digital Britain report had considered that the proposal was unworkable, and favoured other solutions.
However, the government has just announced that it will fast-track legislation that will enact the harshest version of three-strikes that we have yet seen. By completely ignoring the Digital Britain recommendations, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS, formerly BERR, formerly DTI, formerly something else) has definitely shot itself in the foot.
Why this U-turn? Earlier this month The Times reported that Lord Mandelson had gone to the Mediterranean island of Corfu and met with David Geffen at the Rothschild yacht, and had agreed to get tough on piracy, something that was later denied by such people as Tom Watson MP on Twitter. This is likely to become a very controversial trip for Peter Mandleson, as he also met there Gaddafi’s son, and lo and behold, just a bit later the Lockerbie bombing terrorist was released into Libyan custody.
I do not know why this story has hit me so hard, but it really has. It is not like I had a lot of faith left in politicians after the expense scandal earlier in the year. Call me naive, but part of me still believed that governments undertook consultations and research in order to make better policy decisions. Why should the government bother with a lengthy and expensive report? Why should it even bother undertaking a consultation process? Policy is decided by the power of acquaintances, all you need to do is to have enough money to invite Lord Mandelson to a yacht in the Mediterranean and your proposal will be fast-tracked, regardless of expert evidence to the contrary. It is disheartening that something as important as enacting legislation that will cut people off the Internet is decided upon not by considered analysis, but by the size of your yacht and the relative vertical shadow of the sun at midday.
I must say that today I feel sorry for the people who worked on the Digital Britain report, and for good guys in government like Tom Watson MP. Today’s announcement has been a slap in the face for everyone who has given the matter of illegal file-sharing more than two seconds consideration. I wonder if the Tories might see this as an opportunity?
Update: Bad news, the Tories appear to be roughly in favour of the proposal. John Whittingdale MP said that “Personally I am on his [Lord Mandleson] side; peer-to-peer sharing is the greatest threat to our creative industries”. When is someone going to provide evidence for such assertions? Time to consider the UK Pirate Party perhaps?