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Digital Heritage

Volume 504: debated on Wednesday 20 January 2010

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

 That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable specified institutions to make digital copies of cultural artefacts for archival purposes notwithstanding the existence of any intellectual property right; and for connected purposes.

The transmission of our heritage has been revolutionised by the interconnected world of the internet. The greatest cultures of the world are being opened up to the hundreds of millions of people who use the internet. In countries with rich histories such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico, future generations will discuss, consider and analyse their heritage online. As H.G. Wells predicted and Pierre Lévy recently observed, humankind now has the capacity to build a universal digital memory. Many countries’ cultural institutions have started on this grand project only in the past few years, however, and their work is often hampered by laws that were framed to deal with the problems of the analogue age.

Our system of copyright has for many years—perhaps even before the invention of the worldwide web—been creaking at the edges. It has been unable to cope with the explosive growth of creativity and content, as well as the creation of new technologies and the ever-increasing pace of change, particularly in the latter 20th century. The Gowers review identified many steps that could be taken to allow our great cultural institutions—such as the British Library, the British Film Institute and the National Archives—to curate their works in a manner that allows all the opportunities of the digital age to be grasped. The review highlighted that the UK had far more stringent restrictions on copying classes of work for archival and preservation purposes than other countries. It also made specific recommendations on how the UK could deal with orphan works—copyrighted works where it is either difficult or impossible to track down the rights holder.

It is reassuring to know that many of the issues raised by curators and copyright lawyers are addressed by proposals in the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently being discussed in the other place. However, the many wise heads in the other place who are applying their minds to the Bill are moving amendments at a baffling pace. We therefore do not know in what form the Bill will come to this House, although I must say that if Lords Erroll, Whitty, Razzall and Clement-Jones get their way, at least we can be reassured that it will be in much better shape when it reaches us.

The Digital Economy Bill is perhaps the most important Bill for the creative industries this decade, yet they know, as we all do in this House—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is becoming procedurally incorrect. The purpose of this slot is to enable him to talk about his Bill, and he must concentrate on that. An allusion to another matter may be fine in context, but he must focus on the contents of his own Bill.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am explaining the context in which I have produced my Bill, and I hope to bring myself back into order rapidly, with your guidance.

The creative industries, like many Members, are concerned about some of the major measures in the Digital Economy Bill. My Bill might precede it, because, depending on when the House is dissolved for a general election, the Digital Economy Bill might fall. Many content-creators are therefore worried that measures contained in clauses 11 and 17 of the Digital Economy Bill would fall—

Order. I am afraid I shall have to emphasise my ruling to the hon. Gentleman. The procedure for ten-minute Bills is pretty well established, so I hope he will now fall in line with the gentle suggestion I made to him.

I will not test your patience any longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My Bill is about how we store data digitally. The amount of digital content we can store has increased dramatically in recent years. Kryder’s law—that is a mathematical law, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not one being discussed in the other place—is an almost mystical formula that says that digital data capacity will double every 13 months. It means that we can now super-process acres of data that were indigestible only a decade or so ago.

Ten years ago I had a Discman and a few hundred CDs. Three years ago my iPod held thousands of songs. If Kryder’s law holds true, some time around 2013 an iPod will be able to carry a year’s worth of video. By 2016 it will hold all the commercial music ever produced. By 2019 it could carry a lifetime of video—85 years’ worth. Around 2024 all the content ever produced in history could be stored on a device that fits into a pocket.

When such an unprecedented technological advance is fully understood, it leads many to conclude that existing proposals to brand a generation of innate internet users as pirates is futile. What is required is a complete rethink of copyright. It should be accepted that technology now allows people to share content, crunch it, mash it and remake it. To illustrate my point with a contemporary political example, when Labour was elected in 1997, young political propagandists from all parties had to make their point by using an aerosol and a balaclava. Now they use Photoshop.

The recent experience of the website is an example of people taking an idea and reusing it to add to a discussion and make a point. Political party managers might not like it, but it has given election billboards new relevance and interest for the forthcoming general election. It is making electioneering interesting, unpredictable and, dare I say, more fun.

If colleagues do not think that digital natives will change the world of politics with their billboard mash-ups, I ask them to take a look at the voting figures for the Pirate party. In Sweden the Pirate party, an organisation dedicated to giving a generation of net users a voice in the copyright settlement, won a seat in the European Parliament. It is now one of the largest parties in Sweden. One in eight first-time voters supported the German Pirate party in recent elections. The message in the UK is clear. Just because they do not have the capacity to lobby Governments as easily as the British Phonographic Industry, young people will react strongly at the ballot box if their internet rights are diminished. When they are told by an army of big publishing lobbyists that the creative industries are in peril, they have the capacity to Google a strong riposte.

Yesterday, the UK Film Council said that in 2009 British cinemas saw their best admissions in seven years, with box office takings in the UK and Ireland exceeding £1 billion for the first time. In 2009, £1.7 billion was spent on video games, a big increase on the previous year—

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is losing me again. This precious time is to persuade the House that he should have permission to bring in his Bill. He has given an awful lot of background, but the House needs to be clear about what would be in the Bill—what is the purpose of the Bill.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There are a number of cumbersome steps that our cultural institutions have to go through to meet the current requirements of copyright law when seeking to use or reproduce a copy of works held in their collections. They need to be able to preserve their works, shift formats over time and make our heritage available. My Bill will allow cultural works that are often rotting on shelves awaiting copyright clearance to be saved for digital archiving purposes.

The question is that the hon. Member have leave to bring in his Bill. As many as are of that opinion [Interruption]—Order. I am sorry that I am giving the hon. Gentleman a bad time, but it is a fairly usual procedure, if he will bear with me.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Tom Watson, Mr. Don Foster, Mr. Dai Davies, Andrew Miller, Mr. Fraser Kemp, Natascha Engel, Chris Ruane, Ms Katy Clark, Joan Walley and Mr. John Grogan present the Bill.

Mr. Tom Watson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 12 March, and to be printed (Bill 52).