Mandelson in fresh attack on Web rights: Seeks powers to rewrite copyright law

Unelected business secretary Lord Mandelson is attempting to give himself and his mates powers to rewrite and enforce copyright laws

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Unelected, twice-fired business secretary Lord Mandelson is asking to be allowed to rewrite UK law to give himself and his mates powers to investigate and punish copyright infringements. According to the Guardian, Mandelson has written to ministers asking for the power to amend the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, and confer powers on copyright holders "for the purposes of facilitating prevention or reduction of online copyright infringement".

Mandy's plan is to create new punishments for copyright infringement, such as the three strikes and you're banned from the Web plan, or even prison. He proposes to do this means of what's called a 'statutory instrument', which sounds like a medieval torture device, but means the amendment will not be debated in Parliament, passing into law through a vote the government will pass if it can muster its full majority.

The scariest part is that Mandelson also wants to confer powers on anyone whom the government wants to help fight against copyright infringement. This means record companies, film studios and ISPs. Instead of incentivising coyright holders to revolutionise their business models, the proposals will give these creaky relics investigative and even enforcement powers to prop up their failing old-media regimes.

On top of that, Mandelson wants to be able impose investigative and enforcement duties on others involved with copyright. This could mean forcing ISPs into monitoring and approving content. That's like making postmen open and approve your post before they send it to you.

Mandelson is also concerned about 'cyberlockers', or online storage sites such as Dropbox. He wants to remove the option to keep files private. That's like requiring all garages to be made of glass in case you have a stolen car in there.

Reactions are shocked and outraged: Cory Doctorow calls the letter "a declaration of war by the entertainment industry and their captured regulators against the principles of free speech, privacy, freedom of assembly, the presumption of innocence, and competition". Twitter protest figurehead Graham Linehan has promoted the hashtag #webwar to highlight the news. Rupert Goodwins, editor of our sister site ZDNet UK, calls the move "a coup, a power grab".

The possibility of Labour scion Mandelson -- an unelected official, remember -- being able to amend the Copyright Act is bad enough, but it pales in comparison to what might kick off if the Conservatives win the next election. Rupert Murdoch backs David Cameron, with The Sun switching sides yet again, and a Tory government could reward him with powers in his crusade against the Internet. This fear works in our favour however, as the incumbent government has one eye on how changes such as this could be used by the Conservatives should Labour be booted out come the next election.

Comments in the usual place please -- that's if you haven't been rendered speechless by the sheer affrontery of these proposals. Or maybe you think Mandelson's right?