UK Comedy Writer Takes The Digital Economy Bill Seriously… As A Threat To His Livelihood

from the hopefully-it's-not-too-late dept

Nathaniel Tapley, an award-winning comedy writer, writes “Yesterday, I wrote a blog post disagreeing with [Bernie Corbett,] the General Secretary of my union, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, who was defending the Digital Economy Bill. Surprisingly, he emailed me with a full response, which I have now posted at the link above, and I’ve answered a couple of his points in the comments section. Anyway, I thought it might be of interest to some of your readers, as it’s a detailed response from a supporter of the Digital Economy Bill.”

Tapley joins the many creatives that oppose the Digital Economy Bill. His original post that spurred Bernie Corbett’s response is a worthwhile read, as is his response to Corbett’s email. Tapley’s main point of contention is that it is stupid to disconnect anyone if they are suspected of violating copyright:

Internet disconnection works directly against writers, musicians and artists being able to get their works in front of audiences, and paying audiences. In the last five years a number of models have emerged for ‘monetising content’ (ugh!) At present, the residuals and tips and ad revenues make up a small but growing part of many creators’ incomes, and more sophisticated models are being developed.

Reducing the number of people who have access to my work is not the same as working on my behalf, Bernie.

It’s great to see more people come out of the woodwork who seem to understand how to approach new challenges as opportunities and not threats. That said, while it’s great that there is this discussion between people who disagree about the bill, it’s very unfortunate that the bill was rushed through Parliament with such haste.

After all, soon, for anyone suspected of copyright infringement, Techdirt will look like this. At that point, continuing such discussions online will be slightly more difficult.

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Comments on “UK Comedy Writer Takes The Digital Economy Bill Seriously… As A Threat To His Livelihood”

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Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Bailing out the privileged

If you were an industry based on charging artists 99% commission to reproduce, distribute, and retail copies of their work then you’d be keen to lobby for laws that effectively prohibited the use of an instantaneous diffusion device that did it at no cost.

The Digital Economy Act is to PRESERVE the traditional (18th century) printer’s economy (which it can’t do), against the interest of self-publishing artists (who haven’t yet figured out they should be selling their art instead of copies of it).

Unfortunately, when the DEAct fails* (as it will), the effect will be to prompt the offering of alternative Internet access at a premium on an ‘infringement exempt’ basis, i.e. effectively a compulsory license fee or Internet tax.

* It is possible that this is precisely the expectation, that it is simply a draconian stick to convince the populace that a tax would be so much fairer and kinder (conveniently skipping over the lack of justification for an 18th century privilege in the first place, let alone compensation for its ineffectiveness in the face of the Internet).

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Bailing out the privileged

“Unfortunately, when the DEAct fails* (as it will), the effect will be to prompt the offering of alternative Internet access at a premium on an ‘infringement exempt’ basis, i.e. effectively a compulsory license fee or Internet tax.”

It will fail for the following reasons. It violates EU law and british law. But here is the really neat thing the DEB-DEA is the pretty much the same document as ACTA. The labels in their rush to push this through have probably destroyed ACTAs chances in the EU. The simple fact of the matter is that a large chunk of ACTAs rules will be decided in the courts before ACTA can be signed. 3 strikes, the due process issues, kicking people off the internet, criminalization of infringement, etc.

Another point is that the 70% reduction in piracy required by the DEB-DEA will occur. Not because of a drop in piracy but because they wont be able to tell who is infringing. Much like what occured in Sweden, France, South Korea, they will use VPNs, encryption, encrypted sharing, sFTP, and weblockers making the infringement invisible. In all likely hood three strikes wont ever happen in the UK.

With new business models, creative commons, and applications being developed to get people involved in music generation and re-mixing the labels will become less and less relevant over time. These applications for the iPhone-iPad and from the open source community make the tax a less than perfect option that will probably be implemented due to lobbying and corruption. I still dont understand how this would be legal in the EU it violates about 6 different laws and agreements if implemented as a tax for everyone online.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Bailing out the privileged

Hephaestus, you appear to be operating on the assumption that technical measures require EVIDENCE of infringement.

What’s the point of encryption unless as a means to avoid revealing evidence of infringement?

If you only need to be SUSPECTED of infringement (and encryption just as easily arouses suspicion – of terrorism let alone infringement), then VPN becomes an application available only on payment of a high premium by business users.

Remember, the DEAct only requires an accumulation of allegations, e.g. if a woman is accused of being a witch by at least two people she is ‘guilty upon suspicion’ and should be burned at the stake. Britain is well used to such injustice. Don’t forget that copyright itself is an 18th century instrument of injustice (ask Thomas Paine).

The DEAct is simply legislation that hands effective ownership of the Internet to the publishing corporations. After all, property is any object/area that people can be excluded/ejected from without reason by the property holder. This is what is happening. It’s not about preventing unauthorised copies, but transferring control over the interactive entertainment channel (we call the Internet) to the publishing cartels.

Anyone can be ejected. If you’re not paying protection money, you can find another country who’ll have you…

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Bailing out the privileged

“What’s the point of encryption unless as a means to avoid revealing evidence of infringement?”

You are to funny … but I will try to answer, perhaps everything a business is doing, everything a doctor or hospital is doing, anything the state or federal government does, any PII, anything financial, anything having to do with law enforcement, every purchase online, and when the connections are monoitored by law everything every politician is doing because they corrupt.

“The DEAct is simply legislation that hands effective ownership of the Internet to the publishing corporations.”

There is a quote by John Gilmore I am quite fond of, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”.

What you said there is also pretty funny, it has to do with the illusion that control is possible. It is that belief in being able to control the actions of others that is the major achilles heels of the media distribution companies. It prevents them from changing in that they believe they do not have to because the problem can be controlled. Its actually quite delusional on their part.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Bailing out the privileged

Hephaestus, both you and I may recognise legitimate uses of encryption, but we’re dealing with SUSPICION here. My question was a rhetorical parody of the clueless politician’s inability to construe encryption as anything except an attempt to evade proper scrutiny by authorised agents (to ensure no infringement was occurring).

As I suggested, domestic accounts will not be permitted encryption (at least not at significant bandwidth). That would be something permitted only to more expensive accounts.

Routing around damage involves routing around a very few ISPs being leant on by the state to do its dirty work (an initial phase of breaking windows and burning premises down, followed by a ‘salvation’ period in which they extract protection money on behalf of the cartel).

The theory that the Internet is not subject to cartel/state control is fine, but the practice needs work.

AC says:

Re: Re:

you don’t stop by here that often do you. 90% of the posts on this site are about leveraging “people stealing stuff online” into a workable business model. People are going to “steal stuff online” no matter what the politicians do. That’s part of what Mike refers to when he’s talking about the marketplace changing. If this guy can, and he probably will, adapt his business model while taking that fact into account he will indeed keep getting paid and therefore win.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Reducing the number of people who have access to my work is not the same as working on my behalf….

Yeah, can you imagine that if back in the 70s that if you were caught recording TV shows on your VCR, you’d lose access to broadcast television? (If Jack Valenti had his way.)

Or if you were caught recording music off the radio onto cassettes, you’d lose access to the radio?

Or (this is the best one) you were caught dubbing your friends’ cassette tapes, you’d lose access to your friends?

How does being banned from TV compel you to watch TV? How would being barred from radio make you want to buy new music? And how would being banned from your friends make you buy your own cassettes?

Banning people from the net clearly is not a solution because it does not give anyone a reason to buy.

Nathaniel Tapley (profile) says:

A couple of responses

First, thanks to Techdirt for publishing this. It’s great to see the number of creators (and union members) who feel that our unions are on the wrong side of this issue, and I’m hopeful that we can have a proper debate on this Act and the wider issues it throws up.

Dear Anonymous Poster at (4) – I’m not assuming that there will be mass disconnections. I assume that even one disconnection is a potential tragedy for my business. One person, one ardent enthusiast who finds your work, emails it to their friends, leaves comments, and buys what I sell is potentially a lot of lost revenue.

I don’t need a lot of people looking at what I do (although that would help), but I do need the right people to see it. There are all sorts of business models being tested right now, not one of them will work more effectovely for having fewer people online and able to have access to them.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: A couple of responses


Simple suggestion, get together with you writer friends and start your own writers guild. Create it in such a way that the authors of you guild actually get paid directly and not through a third, fourth, or fifth party. Make it a by law that the guild may only use nn percent to fund the guild and make the nn about 10%. Make it easy to submit your name and the works you have done. This way there isnt the same problem artists in canada are having with the 6 billion dollar lawsuit against the record labels.

Make it a guild for the artists not an extension of corporations. With technology this is a simple thing.


Gizzit (profile) says:

Increasingly concerned...

It is reassuring to see that there are creative types who disagree with the way that this legislation was enacted.

Personally, I grow increasingly concerned that ACTA, especially when taken in conjunction with country-specific legislation is a bigger threat to basic freedoms than many people recognise.

I for one have no desire to see the internet become no more than a shop-front for “old business”, no more than a channel to elicit cash from passive consumers.

Elsewhere, I have suggested that one legal and legitimate protest against the way that things are trending, would be a month-long boycott of any commercially licensed creative works.

Say for the month of July 2010, if enough people refused to buy any books, e-books, video games, CDs, mp3s, DVDs, BluRays, movie tickets, etc. etc., it would send a clear message to those who are trying to parcel-up and possess the Internet.

Make no mistake, this is not an issue confined to the UK, or to France, Australia or China – ACTA is global in its scope.

So if you agree with the sentiments clumsily expressed in this post, I would urge you to join me in a boycott of the creative industries’ output for the entire month of July, and to ask all your friends to do the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Increasingly concerned...

We need maybe the pirate party or some prominent group to announce a boycott or something. Some poster on techdirt alone isn’t enough. Maybe if Mike announced one, but I don’t think it’s in his position or business model really. It’s more like the position of the pirate party or the EFF.

Gizzit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Increasingly concerned...

…I agree…so far I’ve suggested this in the forums of theRegister, Open Rights Group, the BBC, BoingBoing, Techdirt and a few other places too.

It goes without saying that anyone who thinks this is a reasonable idea can (and should) spread the word through whatever means they think are appropriate.

Yes, I’d like to see the notion of a boycott gather some momentum, which is partly why I suggest a timeframe of July, to give some time for word to spread.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Increasingly concerned...

A boycott that involved ceasing to fund the cultural monopolists would be fine, but only if it wasn’t so silly as to uphold the validity of that monopoly by suggesting people engage in cultural denial rather than watch a DVD lent to them, or listening to a CD copied for them. You’ll get further with “Share, don’t buy”, than “Don’t buy, don’t watch, don’t listen”. Obviously, people should still pay artists directly (assuming they have a policy of not persecuting their fans for sharing).

An adjunct to a boycott would be to popularise FREE mesh networking before it’s made illegal. You can prevent the Internet becoming privately (cartel) owned if you assure that it is public and freely available, e.g. get some kit from the likes of these guys and provide it to your local community free of charge. With enough mesh nodes it’ll become pointless for the law to pick off individual households for being SUSPECTED of infringing copyright.

The first step is to encourage EVERYONE to ensure their wifi access points are OPEN (‘unsecured’ as the corporate control freak term puts it). People can always have two wifi access points, one bandwidth capped for passers-by and one uncapped for themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Increasingly concerned...

“The first step is to encourage EVERYONE to ensure their wifi access points are OPEN (‘unsecured’ as the corporate control freak term puts it). People can always have two wifi access points, one bandwidth capped for passers-by and one uncapped for themselves.”

This I disagree with. Even if you ignore the fact that I can be held liable for what people on my Wifi can do, I don’t want to open up my computer to potential hackers and viruses by opening up my wifi. People want to be able to put documents on their network and print across the network and share files across the network, etc… and not worry about outside hackers getting a hold of personal information. People have personal information on their network and on their computers that they don’t want hackers acquiring.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Increasingly concerned...

Remember that the Internet is supposed to be public, so the notion of securing access to the Internet via your wifi is a bit silly (unless you’re worried about losing bandwidth/download allowance – which can be addressed).

The whole point of securing wifi access points was to discourage access to corporate INTRAnets, not the public Internet.

Securing your computers/LAN is a completely different matter to permitting public access to the Internet via your wifi router.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Increasingly concerned...

“Elsewhere, I have suggested that one legal and legitimate protest against the way that things are trending, would be a month-long boycott of any commercially licensed creative works.”

and this is part of what can be done if we we organize. Boycotts used to have impact back in the days. The problem is that evil corporations have managed to destroy the communication flow outside the Internet (ie: they monopolize public airwaves and cableco infrastructure and they do a lot to create laws that monopolize the news. This needs to change). Fortunately now we have the Internet to facilitate communication (and hopefully they will never control the Internet the way they control everything else, but they sure are trying hard), but the problem is that the Internet is still a rather new venue when it comes to forming powerful organizations that substantially impact policy and many people still don’t have Internet access. People still haven’t really figured ways to optimally utilize the Internet in order to organize enough resistance to counter the influence that big corporations have over everything. We do have some resistance, like the pirate party and the EFF forming among other groups, but they still don’t have that much influence. However, they certainly are gaining ground, as the pirate party and their success in Sweden has demonstrated, and this appears to be a good thing so far.

What we need to do is organize, most people simply aren’t aware of anything other than what they are fed by mainstream media and that needs to change and we need to organize more ways to inform people and more resistance and organized opposition against these corporations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Increasingly concerned...

Oh, one way that the Pirate Party really gained a lot of power is that they encouraged those who visited their website to print their own fliers and pass them out, the Pirate party simply provided the PDF for people to print. When the Pirate Party was asked about who will pay for ink and paper, the Party told the visitors that they will, and it worked.

One problem with blogs and the Internet is that you really have to come to a website for its contents to be known. It’s hard to market to people outside the Internet who are brainwashed by mainstream media if you limit yourself to the Internet. We can use the Internet to help organize ourselves but we shouldn’t assume it’s the solution to our problems. We need to get out to the streets and inform people. What the pirate party did was a good idea, give people a standard PDF with information on it to alert people about stuff and who to vote for perhaps and to direct them to websites with more information.

Nathaniel Tapley (profile) says:


I’m not sure that the boycott, as you have conceived it, will be particularly effective.

It’s inconsistent. Unless you are going to leave your televisions and radios turned off for the month of July as well, then you’ll be supporting the business models of those who are behind the Digital Economy Bill and ACTA.

If you really want to have an impact, I suggest you boycott things created by large media corporations, but spend what you have saved on things bought direct from the creators, and concentrate on those creators whose business models (freemium or tiered or donations) you think are most worth supporting. Then I suggest you blog about what you didn’t buy, what you did buy, what you spent, and what you found available for free and to buy on the internet.

Otherwise, I’m not sure it’s clear what you’re boycotting. Creative industries except the ones that are free to use (although not free to distribute or download)? Given that people are now alleging copyright infringement in fashion will you not be buying clothes as well?

If you truly want your purchasing power to have an impact, take it away from large corporations, and use it to support those trying to find new ways of supporting themselves whilst making (intangible) things. And then use your blog or Twitter to let everyone (including the corporations) know how much you didn’t spend with them, and did with independents.

And maybe don’t just do that in July, maybe do it forever…

Gizzit (profile) says:

Re: Boycott

I understand your position Nathaniel, and I have no desire to take the bread from the mouths of the creators on a long-term or permanent basis.

What I conceive the boycott to represent is a protest, designed to leave an anomalous blip in the spreadsheets, a signal that people can and will act in response to ill-judged legislation and secretive ACTA cabals, not simply be “a cash crop”.

I have no issue with creative types, rather I despise the parasitic organisations that proliferate and leech off the creators and the consumers alike.

My proposed boycott would not be comprehensive, I get that, I can’t really cancel my Spotify premium account for a month…I’ve already paid for the year…however, if I and enough like-minded souls don’t buy their usual quota of media for the month of July, then let the accountants come up with a reasonable explanation for the sudden anomaly in the sales figures.

I’m interested in the alternative business models you refer to, and would welcome anything which more directly compensated creators, and less the huge corporations sponsoring ACTA and the Digital Economy Act. Creative Commons licensing looks to be evolving nicely.

Nathaniel Tapley (profile) says:

A Couple of Reponses

I will be certainly be looking at getting a group of like-minded writers together to come up with a comprehensive response to copyright issues. We’ll also look at new models, and how people can begin to put them in place in their work.

However, the Writers’ Guild is primarily for writers of television, film, radio and theatre (although some authors are members), so there are practical difficulties in disseminating our work without any corporate input. It takes a lot of people working for free to make a sitcom or even to put on a fringe show. At present, the most obvious ways of getting things made are still through traditional channels, but some of us are looking for new ways.

Last year, I began making In The Gloaming a series of comedy-horror audio plays, an anthology series like Hammer House of Horror, The Twilight Zone, or Tales of the Unexpected. At the moment, we distribute them as free podcasts, and we’ve had very enthusiastic responses from everyone who’s heard them.

However, if I want to continue to produce them at a professional level, I’m going to have to be a little more creative than the ‘donate’ button that we currently use. That has paid for all of the administrative costs of creating all of the podcasts, but it would be nice if I could pay the cast, sound designer, studio, and everyone else. It is possible to make good things without corporate involvement, but it’s certainly not easy.

If anyone has any ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.

At present, as well as discussing these things with people outside the union, I think it’s a debate worth having within it. A union that can master these issues, and come up with a good, 21st-century response to the challenges we face as creators could be a real force for good, and could get lots of new members, and new business models for existing members.

(In The Gloaming can be found at and the episodes are all in the Podcast Archive)

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: A Couple of Reponses

“If anyone has any ideas, I’d be happy to hear them.”

“At present, as well as discussing these things with people outside the union, I think it’s a debate worth having within it.”

One of the big problems with the DEB and ACTA is that they were created in a vacuum with no input from anyone outside the IP industry. Dont make the same mistake, allow external input both good and bad. You might want to crowd source ideas out.

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