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Digital Economy Act 2010: The Internet and the Creative Industries

Published on April 25, 2011
Tags: Web Site Law

A few days ago, Justice Kenneth Parker ruled against an appeal bought by internet service providers BT and TalkTalk over a case involving the Digital Economy Act 2010. The ISPs argued that the Act was incompatible with EU law as it, among other things, stipulated that people who download online content illegally can have their accounts suspended.

The Act has been controversial since it came in, but Justice Parker ruled in its favour and most components of it are now being implemented. The thinking behind this particular case is that illegal downloads – of music, films, TV shows, books and so on – damages the creative industries and violates rights relating to copyright and intellectual property. The ISPs tried to argue that web users have the right of free expression, but this was rejected in favour of protecting industries that have already been damaged by the extent of online privacy.

Without getting into a debate on net neutrality and whether web users' 'freedom of access to information’ is more important than the protection of creative content, this is arguably a growing problem with the internet. Lots of people download content illegally and expect to be able to obtain such information for free, which is a huge issue in creative circles. After all, creative content – no matter what it is – costs money to produce and so, especially when so many of these industries are already struggling, to then have so many people obtaining content for free through often less than legal means is massively damaging.

This issue is also highlighted by another recent case, this time involving Google. You may be aware that Google wants to create the world’s biggest online library and eBook store. The publishing industry has been dreading the possibility of this for quite some time: for a while, it seemed inevitable that Google would win the right to continue with pursuing this goal and the already struggling publishing industry would suffer even more. To a lot of people’s surprise, though, on 22nd March 2011, a US federal judge ruled against Google and announced that the Google Book Settlement would have given the company a ‘de facto monopoly’ and that it wouldn’t be allowed. 

One of the big issues here is copyright. Setting up such an online library would involve Google copying books that are still within copyright and therefore still owned by someone else. The Google Book Settlement also made it so that it was up to publishers to find out whether their books had been copied and raise it with Google, rather than the other way around, which was also considered to be a major issue with the proposals. It would also have given Google a stake in future proceeds, among other things, which would have created the ‘de facto monopoly’ that was ruled against by the US judge.

Google said that the purpose of the Book Settlement was to open up access to books that currently might not be available to everyone, including out of print books. The issue, though, is that when some books are out of print in some countries but not in others, and when some books are censored in some countries and not in others, it raises international issues that are the preserve of the government, not a private company. Needless to say, the publishing industry was relieved by the ruling of the judge, but Google is still estimated to be in possession of 12-15 million copied books, which, under current rulings, have been copied illegally.

Both of these examples show the conflict between the creative industries and the internet. They also show that, while when we think of online piracy and illegal downloading we immediately think of individual web users, they are not the only ones involved. The explosion of the internet and other digital platforms may have made it much easier for the creative industries to get their material out there and seen by more people, but it has also made it much more vulnerable to exploitation at all levels.

A lot of this is down to the freedom of the web. In many ways one of its biggest selling points, it also has the potential to create conflicts, especially when internet self-regulation is held in such high regard. It works to protect itself, which is admirable, but in doing so it poses real world problems that increasingly require action from governments and judiciaries.

The internet has, for a long time, been in something of a world of its own. Now it is coming to maturity, however, and as the above examples illustrate, it is starting to come to the fore in the real world and it’s posing issues that definitely need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Whatever your opinion of both these cases and your opinion more generally on online content, it seems safe to say that this issue isn’t going to go away any time soon.

By Chelsey Evans

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