My Activism Journey and how the Digital Economy Bill got caught up in it

Since the world as I knew it turned totally fascist two Tuesdays ago, I’ve been looking at activism with fresh eyes. No longer for me is it a conscieable option to simply sign the occassional petition and hope for enough money to go to a protest, or choose a career in meaningful inter-personal work and generally be a good example of loving diversity in society, I feel a need to do more.

In that vein, I have been looking at crises (awful word) with a vewito see what I can actually do to them. My tumblr dashboard has been flooded with information about the considerable impact that just ringing an office can have compared to an email, but for most American situations, I’m not going to get away with pretending to be a concerned citizen, and I’d rather leave that energy to the people who do live there.

At last, after a few days of idly scrolling various sites with few urgent UK actions leaping out to me, one landed. You can probably tell by the title which campaign that was.

Specifically, it was this article in the Guardian that popped up and made me take notice; titled “Restricting niche porn sites is a disaster for people with marginalised sexualities”. Hardly the most high-brow cause to catch my attention, but the connotations of this bill are worrying, even when they make for tacky-sounding, eye-catching headlines. I had known about part of this since 2014, when there were campaigns about banning face-sitting in paid-for porn content. I don’t actually watch porn, but even at the time that sounded unfair, and difficult to enforce. I don’t recall actually doing anything though.

Not this time however, I was going to follow through with my feeling of unease at dubous moral-sounding censorship and find out exactly what was going on. Cue this monstrosity when I look for the actual bill:

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Horrifying, but I continued:

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Argh, it somehow got worse!
As you can see, the actual bill, in all its (dry, dull, jargon-filled) entirety is available for any old blogger to see. That’s pretty cool, for someone who is curious above and beyond their level of comprehension, and worth bearing in mind for future parliamentary processes.

Armed with this excessive tool for research,  I tried to dive deeper into the questions of censorship this article raised,  and what possible reasoning there could be for it getting so far in parliament.

It turns out, it’s framed as for children, that’s what the costly age-verification requirement is about, and this bit could drive independent sites out of business according to the owner of Dreams of Spanking and author of the guardian article, Pandora Blake. It wasn’t clear to me if that cost would fall to producers, and it wasn’t made clearer by the helpful-sounding “Age-Verification Provider: Designation and Funding” section, because with all the referrals back, there’s barely anything in each actual section. The line (terminology leaves me behind, apologies) labelled 6 states that: “The Secretary of State may pay grants or make loans to the age-verification
regulator to cover expenditure incurred in the carrying out of its functions.
“, which to me reads as it being state-funded, at least in some part, and at least state-provided.

But I’m no expert, and I began to question if it would not be a better solution to check age as part of a ISP function, like with parental controls…struck by the fundamentally bizarre logic that the government is assigning itself as everyone’s parents, and forcing everyone to have parental controls on their provider, without a choice or other option, and that does seem very wrong.

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Other individuals seem to have had this thought too, if you’re going to meddle in censorship, do you even have a workable plan, UK government? Business Insider thinks not “The UK is banning ‘non-conventional’ porn and it could censor huge swathes of the web“,and raises a lot of good points about mixed social media sites, with a wide range of age ranges and content available. Someone, somewhere in the policy rooms, has either already thought up a detailed answer to this or is thinking it up right now, but it doesn’t mean much if we in the general public have to wait until this bill is realised in order to see how it will work. This was the first part that I decided I needed to ring someone about…and then wrote my blog post before doing that, but stay tuned for when I do, coming sometime next week!

In my travels, I found further interesting points about this bill for example WebDevLaw in “Idiocy By The Back Door” considers its huge scope, and how its structure allows a lot of significant issues to be ignored; which is worth mentioning before I continue to contribute to ignoring significant issues and focusing on the porn.

 

My solitary excuse for this is that personally I agree with the view presented by many, including Sex and Censorship that porn is the canary in the mineshaft of personal freedoms. There’s a distinct feeling of pearl clutching in the specific acts affected by this law, coming directly from the 2014 law in which paid-for online pornographic content became rated by the BBFC same as DVD’s . Sex and Censorship did a good job in pointing out what a lot of mainstream reporters failed to pay attention to at the time, that it wasn’t to do with even subconscious sexism, even if it sounds like it, and has that effect. For example, face-sitting. Hysteria ensued when it was described as unnrateable by the BBFC, and therefore could not be available in paid-for online content in the UK, but looking into the logic more thoroughly than you would normally ever want to in Myles Jackman’s incredibly thorough guide, you can see that dick-sucking to the point of risking breathing is also unrateable, and that facesitting is allowed as long as airways are clear.  Again, at this point it is acceptable to sit back again and wonder why on earth the government cares this deeply about what’s going on in our respective knickers, and doesn’t this all feel a bit invasive?

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The excuses, which I am finally getting to, lie in obscure old laws that do provide a decent service on the face of it; The Obscene Publications Act of 1959 and the amendment of 1964, protecting the general public from bestiality and necrophilia, for example. The confusing part is the subjective judgement required in judging whether material is likely to “deprave and corrupt” those likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it. The BBFC heavily leans on this act in order to create its ratings, which means items viewed as violating the OPA are refused ratings, and somehow, this has got twisted to the point that anything that could be significantly dangerous in pornographic material will be refused a rating, when a simple “do not try this at home or without professional training” disclaimer would surely be sufficient? This is phone call number two, that I *still* haven’t made yet, and you should still stay tuned for, not to say that the answer doesn’t exist, it’s just impossible to find for the average blogger (i.e me).

The Adult Provider Network is a trade association which provided a rebuttal to this section of the bill, a part that promised to essentially ban any unrateable content. They raise the incredibly valid point  material designated as pornographic is held to a completely different standard than regular entertainment material, despite being a subjective and delicate difference between mediums;
“Depictions of a person gagged with all four limbs bound are prohibited content, and yet depictions of this act in a sexual context are permitted in 18 classified mainstream media entertainment such as Hollywood films.”, and several other pertinent suggestions for improvement and potential pitfalls that are interesting to read. They pretty much mirror the original Guardian article sentiment, but in formal bill-memo terms.

Conclusion

The Digital Economy Bill is a monster of a bill in every respect, and so it is complicated in many facets. It doesn’t only concern porn, but copyright law, and internet provision too, and this is how politics takes over, by being so huge and intimidating that we cannot understand it, let alone provide reasonable rationales against it. But slowly, I will be trying to uncover more information for my own purposes in the next few days, and maybe it will make sense, or it will be even more outrageous. Either way, fighting starts with knownledge, and damn, I have a lot more respect for lawyers and bill-writers and policy-makers etc. than I have ever had before now!

Until the next time, good luck and happy interneting!


Sources/Further Reading:
http://mylesjackman.com/index.php/my-blog/106-the-following-content-is-not-acceptable

http://sexandcensorship.org/2014/12/censorship-not-sexism/
https://webdevlaw.uk/2016/09/14/digital-economy-bill-2016-idiocy-back-door/

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0087/cbill_2016-20170087_en_1.htm