Richard Caborn

The Right Honourable Richard Caborn PC, former Labour MP for Sheffield Central

Digital Economy Bill

Contacted by at least two ORG supporters.

Contact Details

Sheffield Office
2nd Floor
Barkers Pool House
Burgess Street
S1 2HF

Telephone: (0114) 273 7947
Fax: (0114) 275 3944


By appointment - please call telephone no. (0114) 273 7947

Letter sent from Access Space

I'm writing to express my opposition to the Digital Economy Bill. In your constituency I run an open access internet learning centre called Access Space, which happens to be the longest-running free, open access ICT lab in the UK.
We're strong advocates of involvement and engagement with the digital realm, particularly with a view to developing skills and creativity to play a productive part in the digital economy. Under this proposed draconian legislation it would be incredibly likely that our organisation, or its individual beneficiaries, would be excluded from internet usage.
The suggestion that excluding significant proportion of the UK population from the internet will boost the UK's creative and digital economy is so patently absurd that it beggars belief. Even the threat of such exclusion will suppress curiosity, stifle creativity and stunt learning.
Knowledge, not intellectual property, is the bricks and mortar of the creative and digital economy. Just as today's newspapers are tomorrow's recycling, in the future content will have a purely contingent value - the key to strategic earning potential will be the capacity to develop something new, not endlessly to rehash the old.
If the objective of the Digital Economy Bill is for the UK to join the third rank of digitally engaged nations and to leave innovation and development to others, it could hardly be better conceived.

Letter sent by Richard on 2009-08-27

I am writing to express my frustration and disquiet at the Government's policy U-turn on the issue of copyright infringement on the Internet.
Over the last fifteen years I have watched the Internet grow from academic curiosity, through being a geek toy, beyond commercial medium and into part of the critical infrastructure of nations. Vivian Reding, European commissioner for information society and media, said recently that Internet access is a fundamental human right in Europe. The government is now proposing to deny this right to anyone accused of copyright infringement, flying in the face of reason, evidence and the art of the possible.
Lord Carter and his Digital Britain team recently spent many months assessing evidence from all sides of the copyright debate. This work concluded that denying Internet access on the basis of alledged copyright infringement would be disproportionate. My view is that it would be no more just than cutting off people's electricity supply for watching television without a licence.
The Digital Britain report acknowledged the complexity of the issue by recommending a cautious approach to be introduced over a number of years in consultation with both the public and the various affected industries. Given that the report was initially accepted by the Government, why has it now abandoned this position in favour of one biased strongly in favour of a single stakeholder group: Hollywood and other major rightsholders?
Another issue that concerns me greatly is the fundamental disregard for due process that this policy represents. How can the Government justify denying people access to the most important communications medium of the 21st century without even giving them the chance to defend themselves in court? Why does the Government believe it's right to facilitate the vigilante justice of multinational media corporations, who want to bend our legal system to their own commercial ends, and who have in the past succeeded in extracting (sometimes extorting) fines from individuals on only the most flimsy of circumstantial evidence?
Yet another issue is that the proposals won't work from a technical viewpoint. Savvy infringers will start encrypting their traffic. They will write programs to circumvent the detection methods employed by ISPs and millions of others will download these programmes. Others will simply buy a few huge external hard discs – ones able to hold a quarter of a million songs cost around £50 these days – and swap files in person when they visit their friends.
Lastly the idea is at odds with European legislation. Amendment 138 of the Telecoms Package currently being finalised in Europe forbids the cutting off of users without judicial oversight. And that's even before the ISPs start taking legal advice on other ways in which it breaks relevant laws. Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights would probably have something to say about legislation that allows a “fundamental human right” to be taken away so easily.
For all these reasons - assuming this is truly a consultation and not just another rubber-stamping exercise – I urge you to join your colleague Tom Watson ( in representing to Lord Mandelson and Stephen Timms my views and those of others who may write to you on this subject. I would also be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Letter sent by Richard on 2010-03-08

I am writing to ask for a meeting with you to discuss my concerns about the Digital Economy Bill. I would be grateful if someone on your team could call me to arrange a surgery appointment. My contact details are attached.
I applaud the Government for seeking to modernise copyright law and the enforcement thereof however you will know from our previous correspondence that, as someone who makes their living as a technology consultant, I have grave misgivings about some of the measures contained within this Bill.
My concerns are shared by many local people. Technology and Internet businesses have flourished in Sheffield over the last twenty years so there are lots of knowledgeable companies and individuals in your constituency who are watching the progress of the Digital Economy Bill with interest. Lilian Edwards, Professor of Internet Law at Sheffield University, has written about the legal and technical flaws of the proposals on her blog [1] and in the Guardian newspaper [2]. In January more than twenty people took time out of their working day to debate the issues at a local conference [3, 4]. This month's GeekUp meeting [5] saw a passionate debate about how to ameliorate those provisions of the Bill that people think threaten their liberty and livelihoods.
These are just the local discussions of which I am aware personally. An Internet search for the term "digital economy bill", or the Twitter hash-tag #debill, will reveal to you the extent of the concern within the technology community nationally.
Some of those who stand to be affected adversely - such as our universities, hotels, pubs, libraries, cafés, youth clubs and local families with Internet connections - remain ignorant of the new responsibilities the Bill would oblige them to accept.
Lastly, Sheffield is a hotbed of creativity, and is tipped to become UK City of Culture in 2013. Many artists, musicians, photographers, film-makers and other creative people live and work here. They are looking to the Digital Economy Bill to help them make a living from art yet at present it does little to promote their cause and much to entrench the interests of major rightsholders.
For all these reasons I believe the Digital Economy Bill is a key local issue that merits your attention.
I am aware of the scale of the lobbying by Big Media and copyright maximalists on this issue. As the Bill will shortly be read in the House of Commons I hope you will also make time to listen to the concerns of local people and will represent our views in the forthcoming debate.
I attach a copy of my previous letters on this subject for reference. These are also published on my blog [6].
[5] (shortlink to

Letter sent by Richard on 2010-03-16

Dear Mr. Caborn

I wrote to you recently about my objections to the proposals contained within the Digital Economy Bill. I'm not going to rehearse those arguments again here.

I'm writing to you today because I'm very worried that the Government is now trying to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without a full Parliamentary debate. Please see

Even if you disagree with all I have said about this Bill, we can perhaps agree that MPs should have the opportunity to scrutinise the proposals properly, especially given the delicate balance copyright law must strike between the interests of creators, rights-holders and the commons.

It would be a dereliction of duty for MPs to allow these measures to pass without scrutiny. I urge you to demand a full debate be held - even if this means the Bill runs out of time before the General Election. Better that than to pass harmful laws.

Yours sincerely, etc.

P.S. You may have heard that there will be a protest against the Bill in your constituency next week:

Acknowledgement from Richard Caborn's assistant received 2010-03-18 promising a reply.