For months, my head has been jammed with anger and ideas about the Digital Economy Bill that's in the last stages of being rushed through parliament. I keep meaning to discuss it on this blog, and I haven't. Not because I don't care - actually, this piece of legislation offends me personally and politically more than anything Labour have done since they took us into Iraq - but because I care so profoundly that I don't think anything I can say can really do it justice. Pathetically, I'm also a bit intimidated by the volume of clever stuff that's been already been said about corporate copyright protection, and I'm scared that if I try to express how I feel I'll reveal myself as a Stupid Shouty Girl who Doesn't Understand. But I've got to at least acknowledge that this matters to me. It matters because the Digital Economy Bill is one of the most significant assaults on human rights that Labour has managed to execute in its twelve-year trigger-happy showdown with British civil liberties.
Today's open letter from a group of MPs, bloggers, musicians and members of the Featured Artists association [including Anthony Barnett of Open Democracy, Billy Bragg and The Indelicates] is a reserved shot of the sheer indignance that many internet users are feeling this week:
The best blog analysis on the Bill that I've read recently has been helen's post at Police State UK, 'The Chilling Effect', explaining the recent amendments and why the actual sanctions proposed against people sharing files for free online are only part of the problem. Suppression of free speech isn't just about direct censorship - it's about creating a climate of cultural orthodoxy in which certain ways of behaving and sharing information are suspect, and then putting power in the hands of intermediary regulating authorities [ISPs, for example] to enforce that suspicion.
The Digital Economy Bill is altogether a larger and more dangerous assault on liberty than its individual clauses would suggest. What really frightens me about the government's corporate copyright protection movement is the casual, sneering manipulation of neoliberal dialectic: talking about 'safeguarding businesses', when clamping down on personal internet freedoms will endanger small entrepreneurial partnerships and cottage creative industries. Talking about 'protecting creative industries', when it's clear, as Bragg told Panorama last night, that "the music industry is thriving. It's the record industry that's in trouble."
This is a vile, vituperative piece of legislation, driven by corporate lobbyists and blithely ignoring public interest. It's a Faustian pact between a dying government and antique, anti-innovatory music and publishing industries who are as terrified now as manufacturers of illuminated manuscripts were in 1455 when they got their hands on the Gutenberg Bible and saw the page turning on a world of easily-exchanged ideas that they could not monetise or control. And just like today, the backlash was vicious, because of easy deal-brokering between communications merchants keen to control how people spent their money and state authorities keen to control people's access to ideas and information.
It's not just the fact that the Digital Economy Bill will criminalise young people, that this law has been written by people who mistrust and misunderstand the internet in order to punish those whose economic and cultural world has been formed by it. It's not just about the collision between information that wants to be free and information that others want to be expensive. It's about a cold and calculated assault on the forming paradigms of my generation, a final statement by a crippled and expiring Labour government that big business being free to make money at the expense of everyone else is the only thing that matters - more than the lives and livelihoods of individuals, more than artistic expression, more than the long-term socio-economic future of this or any other nation.
Because much as the Digital Economy Bill is Mandelson's terrible lovechild, collusion by frontbench Tories and Lib Dem Peers gives the lie to the idea that this is simply a Wicked Labour Scheme. It's not even a trend that's unique to Britain. Across the West, governments are moving to restrict the access of their citizens to unpaid content on the web, creating blacklists and gifting themselves with the power to cut people off from the syncretic world of high-speed information exchange at the slightest provocation. Future generations will look at campaigns like these in the same way that we think about fascist book-burning parades.
On Wednesday, there's going to be a demo in Westminster. Hope to see some of you London-centric folks there.