Debate on the Digital Economy Bill

digecon1309

Yesterday I spoke in a debate concerning the Digital Economy Bill, specifically part 4 of the Bill which relates to the protection of intellectual property in connection with electronic communications and data-sharing. The internet and new technology have created huge opportunities for artists to engage their audiences, but many are struggling to secure fair remuneration for the work they create due to online copyright infringement. In my speech – which you can see a video of below – I pressed the Government to address this in the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill.

 

Thangam Debbonaire: I rise to speak about part 4 of the Bill and in support of musicians, singers, composers and others in the music industry who create and perform music for our pleasure. In the context of the Bill, that means asking the Government to use this opportunity to strengthen existing measures to ensure that artists are properly remunerated for their work online, which they frequently are not.

 

First, however, I must add that the measures in part 3, in relation to pornography, are a welcome step, but they are nowhere near enough, as other hon. Members ​have said. I will not discuss these measures at length, and I just want to add my support to the things that the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and others said about the deficiencies of the Bill and about aspects of online abuse. Before I was a Member of Parliament, I worked with men who had abused their partners, and I can provide lists of examples of their use of the internet to track, harass, shame, bully, threaten and abuse their ex-partners. I can also say that many of them, unfortunately, learned their ideas about sexual behaviour from pornography—frequently, violent pornography. The Government have an opportunity that they can grasp. It is not easy—I am not saying that there are simple solutions—but I really add my voice to those of other hon. Members, and I know that the Secretary of State, with her track record on tackling violence against women and girls, will be open to listening to our suggestions.

 

I must declare my musical interests. I was once a professional musician and a member of the Musicians’ Union, which therefore did make a donation—declared properly in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—to my campaign last year. I am married to a professional musician. Many of my friends and family are also musicians. Having declared my interests, I have to say that I am speaking today about the rights of workers, who include many in my own constituency, to be properly paid for their music, and to support the huge contribution the music industry makes to our economy. I ask the Government to improve on what is currently in the Bill and to do everything they can to stop illegal downloading and piracy.

 

We all have music in our lives. Special memories always have a specific song playing in the background. Special occasions include a well-chosen piece of music. As I walked to the bus this morning, I had a tune in my head. Whether we love opera or indie bands or can remember all the tunes from “Singin’ in the Rain”—I can—music is a huge part of our lives. The previous Labour Government invested hugely in the arts in a range of ways, and the arts have given a great return on investment. For that to continue, musicians and the creative industry, and every part of the supply chain, have to be properly, fairly and legally remunerated for what they create, whether it is online, in live performances, or in sales of physical recordings such as CDs. This Bill provides a great opportunity for the Government to help to make sure that this happens online. Yet, unfortunately, the content of part 4 leaves so much that could still be done. I hope that we will discuss that in Committee.

 

I am pleased that clause 26 amends the current legislation on copyright to bring online criminal penalties for copyright infringement in line with off-line penalties, with a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. This will target anyone who infringes copyright in order to make a commercial gain. However, I wish to stress to hon. Members and to members of the public that this is not to catch out people who download music and unwittingly download or stream something illegal. I want to make that clear in adding my support to this measure. As far as I understand it, it targets the criminals who make money from distributing music to which they do not have the rights.

 

I am getting nods from the Secretary of State, so I am glad that I have got that right.

The Bill could and should be a vehicle to boost the UK’s creative industries and the legal economy, and reduce the proliferation of illegal content online. I would like the Government to consider adding two things to the Bill. First, I ask the Secretary of State to consider making online providers who make music available on their sites legally liable to ensure that that music is legally available. This would mean that they would need either to obtain relevant licences or take active steps to prevent infringement, and could not take any advantage of the safe harbours provision in the e-commerce directive, which was written many years ago and no longer covers what we need today.

Secondly, I would like the Secretary of State to consider imposing a code of practice between online intermediaries and those who hold the rights to music in order to deal with piracy if voluntary talks fail. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, this is not just about music, and he mentioned films. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) referred to e-books. There are many art forms to which this could apply. I am taking music as an example, but it could do the lot.

Estimating the loss to the legal trade in music through piracy is difficult, but using data from Ofcom, there is evidence to suggest that the losses could be anything between £150 million and £300 million a year. Whatever the true scale of the figure, this is a significant loss to the UK economy, to music producers, and above all to the musicians and the artists who make the music.

Online copyright infringement is as serious as physical, off-line copyright infringement, as others have said in relation to online pornography or other aspects of the internet and the digital economy. It is as serious as that. One would not expect to walk into a shop and remove a CD without paying, walk into a club or a local live venue and not pay your door fee, or walk into an orchestral concert without a ticket. The two things are exactly the same.

I have often heard it said that the online world is impossible to regulate—that it is a sort of modern-day wild west. Well, as anyone who loves western movies as much as I do knows, the wild west was eventually tamed—sort of. The good guys do eventually win, usually, and the bad guys usually get taken out—they do in Morricone films, anyway. [Interruption.] Yes, with great music. It is not always the sheriff who is successful in asserting good over evil, and in the online world it does not necessarily have to be the law that intervenes and pursues prosecutions to make it work. Nevertheless, we do need that regulation. Music lovers themselves want to make sure their loved bands and artists are paid properly, and they know that they can be if they pay through legal download sites or through ad content. Musicians and the industry have done well out of an increase in digital music, some of it free to download or available on a subscription service.

 

Steve McCabe: My hon. Friend is making a very clear argument about fairness that will have support across the House. Does she agree that a very simple ​move by the Government would be to extend the public lending right to off-site e-book lending, as that would correct an error that was never intended?

 

Thangam Debbonaire: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and I completely agree. As I said, the arguments I am making about music can equally be applied to books, to films, and to other art forms.

When music lovers see ads in front of streams of music, they expect that what they are hearing will be legal and that the ads are helping to pay for this. When they use a well-known search engine, which I will not name, to find a piece of music they like, they expect that the links will take them to legal sites where the music industry is properly paid for their work. However, that is not always the case. This is where we have to intervene, as lawmakers, to provide a proper framework for the online wild west.

In some parts of the online world, co-operation is working. For instance, internet service providers are co-operating on the “Get It Right From A Genuine Site” campaign, which helps to educate consumers about the importance of legal sources. However, there is still no clear agreement with the search engines. This is despite a Government-chaired round table process that has been discussing the problem for several years. The search engines need to do their part, now, because the UK Music report published yesterday showed that music contributed £4.1 billion to the British economy last year. We need it to do more, and it can through an online presence.

A thriving digital economy requires each part of the value chain in music production and consumption to get its fair share. Huge global companies that are not paying their fair share for the use of the UK’s music on their platforms should be made to do so. This needs to be resolved to ensure a fair digital economy in the UK, with fair rewards for musicians. I could make plenty of detailed suggestions, and I look forward to the opportunity to do so in Committee. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider what I have said about the need for proper remuneration for musicians and those involved in other art forms online.

 

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