digital implications,  Open content,  politics

What the Digital Britain report should have said

As most UK readers will be aware we have Lord Carter's Digital Britain report available which sets out the vision for the UK economy being one that embraces all things digital (after all, jam making aside, we've nothing else left). If you're not from the UK, don't worry, if you haven't got such a strategy already, you'll no doubt be getting one soon, as all countries see the potential of a digital economy to get us out of the hole we are currently in.

The report sets out some commendable aims, such as creating a digital infrastructure, ubiquitous broadband and all that. But where it comes unstuck is in stressing the importance of protecting copyright online and threatening to crack down on file-sharing. Admittedly they were never going to say 'forget copyright, we promote a free for all', but they seem to be limiting their view of the net to one of a consumer channel. Never mind that four out of the top ten websites in the world are based around people sharing and creating content (YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Wikipedia).

Charles Leadbeater of We-Think fame has an excellent response, which I urge you to read. He sums it up when he says:

"plans to invest more in digital technologies will only pay off if they bring further disruption to economies that are already in turmoil"

And this is the key to the problem with the Digital Britain report. It is, at heart, a cowardly report. They have listened to the protectionist lobbying of the incumbent industries and sought to create a strategy that will serve their needs. Unfortunately, an internet used as a broadcast channel is a long-dead notion, so it will not serve the needs of a new economy. Their proposal to create a digital infrastructure while simultaneously enforcing more stringent copyright is rather like suggesting an investment in eco-friendly cars while listening to the petro-chemical companies and simultaneously slashing petrol prices.

Here is my alternative conclusion:

"It is obvious that success online is created by empowering users to become creators and sharers of content. We will seek to support this fundamental ethos. We appreciate that this does not directly correspond with the existing models of many media businesses and we will set out a support strategy to help these industries to migrate to new business models and working methods which embrace the possibilities of the digital age."

If you want to have your say, then Tony Hirst and Joss Winn have taken the report and chunked it down handily into paragraphs, which you can then comment on individually at WriteToReply. In other words they've done exactly what the report should be promoting, but seems a long way from understanding.


  • Anoush

    I adore this British tradition of big strategic reports written by lord this and lord that. Perhaps if they comissioned the thinkers and the visionaries (eg leadbeater whom you mentioned, shirkey and others) to do this work then the results would have been different.

  • Michael

    “rather like suggesting an investment in eco-friendly cars while listening to the petro-chemical companies”
    Except that unlike right holder organisations, the Petrochems have seen the future and are rapidly reorganising their business models. Someone at Exxon once said to me – ‘We can’t gain by stopping the green car, we can only gain by profiting from it.’

  • Nicole Hansen

    It’s funny because I read the exact opposite into that part of the report.
    The overall theme was a bit ominous I agree, but I think your conclusion actually agrees with what was stated in the report in this line:
    “…when there is very widespread behaviour and social acceptability of such behaviour that is at odds with the rules, then the rules, the business models that the rules have underpinned and the behaviour itself may all need to change.”
    In other words, they are recognizing that the public does not agree with or respect copyright law as it is and suggest that perhaps the laws need to be changed to deal with that. I actually felt this was the most significant point (admission) in the entire report.

  • Martin Weller

    @Nicole – there is a lot of ‘on one hand, this, but we also recognise that’ in the report. Shortly after the piece you quote it says “in the rapidly changing digital world is a framework that is effective and enforceable, both nationally and across borders.” Which says to me they want new rules to clamp down as well as promoting innovation. It just doesn’t seem clear enough. But I take what you’re saying, maybe I did paint it as a bit negative.

  • Harriet Wakelam

    I agree with you that this is cowardly – even more so, I believe that the successful digital economies will be those brave enough to be truly innovative (in the true sense of the word) in their approach to copyright.
    We need some form of recompense for intellectual property, but at the moment, we are looking within the current model, not outside. It is the same issue facing us in Australia with our filtering debate.

  • Jonners

    Except of course that it has taken the petro- related industries 25-30 years to reach that point ( anyone?) and in the digital domain there isn’t that kind of timescale to play with…
    … on everything else, it’s going to require radical visions and re-visions if Digital Britain will ever come to pass. And there will be plenty of growing pains along the way. See the Daily Mail headlines about social networking this past week for just a small slice of what we (them/us) are up against.

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