communications networks will succeed or fail because of their content.
People do not buy wires; they buy programmes, services and
all the more deplorable, therefore, that the Government has relegated
content to the secondary status it is accorded in the DTI paper Building
the Highways of the Future.
Labour, in contrast, will give
infrastructure and content equal priority. The new networks must be a
place where demanding consumers and creative suppliers meet. Our goal must
be to ensure that consumers have access, as they decide and choose, to
content of high quality and at affordable cost, supplied by a dynamic
market and by efficient public services. Government can and must
facilitate this aim.
Consumers are of course not only the recipients of information in the new
networks; they are generators and exchangers of information as well. We
believe Government should intervene as little as possible in content
creation and regulation. We would seek to set a framework within which
companies and consumers, public services and citizens, could exchange
content as they chose.
This facilitating role from
Government would require action in four areas: universal access,
competitiveness, copyright law, and free speech.
It will also require a constant
ability for the enabling regulatory framework we envisage to keep pace
with the rapid advance of technology in this field. As technology changes,
so must the regulatory response, in a flexible and sophisticated way. The
overall goal of governmental policy, however, must remain the same: the
empowerment of people as consumers and users of the new networks.
everyone to share in the benefits of the information society. For
consumers, this is partly achieved by ensuring the
nationwide approach to infrastructure provision we have outlined above. It
is also partly achieved by ensuring that effective competition drives down
prices and over time makes the acquisition of equipment and the payment of
on-line charges more affordable. But we acknowledge that there will always
be those who cannot afford to link their own home into the communications
networks, and we must ensure that such people do not become
"information-poor" and sharply discriminated against as a
result. This is why we set out in 10.2 below our proposals for ensuring
that schools, hospitals, and other public service organisations are linked
in to the networks.
important to ensure that access is available to those - including women
and those from ethnic minority communities - who are often excluded from
networking at present.
We also envisage a range of
different public access points becoming available - and we would wish to
explore the possibility of financing these through public/private
particular, private sector organisations might finance terminals or a
particular service in return for the pulling-power that they might have
for the provider of the facility.
The cornerstone of this public
access network will be the public library: still a storehouse of books and
knowledge, a school for life for everyone, but now in the twenty-first
century also to be the hub of the new interactive networks. We believe it
is imperative that anyone who cannot link themselves into the information
society at home should be able to go into their public library -or perhaps
in some areas their village hall - and do it there.
Some local authorities are
already well advanced in this, and many are already choosing to make use
of information technology in their libraries and public buildings.
But we will insist that the
providers of the infrastructure automatically put a feed into every public
library in the area they are covering.
We believe that as well as
having access to screens and communications through the public library,
individuals should be able to rent e-mail addresses there. This service is
currently available through Cyberia, the Internet Cafe, and similar
innovative organisations, but should be available - as cheaply as possible
- to citizens throughout the country.
We would also wish to
encourage network providers to develop schemes to make the use of their
systems more affordable for the general public.
The idea of widespread access
points for public information has already been tested with enormous
success in Iowa, where the links provided to county, state and federal
authorities have proved not only extremely popular but also very useful.
As well as the need for
physical access to the networks, it is also important to facilitate
psychological access. Many people are afraid of the technology and only a
relatively small number have the ability at present to use it
should be encouraging the providers to make access easy, through TV remote
controls with which everyone is familiar, and by ensuring that information
programmes are not dry but fun.
Touch-screen techniques and
other easy-to-use tools will help to ensure that the new networks are
available to everyone, and not daunting to a great majority of the
population. It has taken years for many people to learn how to pre-set
their video recorders; and this is hardly surprising, given the complexity
of the operation on many machines. We do not wish to see the same problem
developing with the use of new interactive technology.
We set out in the third and fourth sections above how we aim
to ensure that there is open access to the networks for the providers of
information and of services. This is particularly important, given the
strength of British companies already in these fields.
Britain has some of the most
enterprising, innovative and successful media companies in the world. They
must be given access to consumers and new technologies to make the most of
the new opportunities. The universal access for consumers and producers
suggested here would extend the benefits of the information society, both
by kick-starting the content creation that has held the cable revolution
back and spreading that content's reach beyond the economically affluent
in urban areas.
recently, the satellite and cable revolutions have not provided much
domestically-based programme-making in Britain. A fairer competition
environment for content provision will help to stimulate local
programme-making; and there will be considerable first-mover advantages
for countries that develop content earlier than their competitors.
Our approach to the
regulation of media industries generally will be based on a number of
clear principles: diversity of content, plurality of ownership, regional
strength, and quality of programme-making. Avoiding dominance by any one
provider, and ensuring that ownership of a gateway cannot be used to
create bottlenecks, will help to secure those principles. We shall also
wish to encourage broadcasters to provide local channels.
Britain's creative skills can be
world-class. As the National Heritage Select Committee identified in its
recent report on the British film industry, there are already concerns
about future skill shortages in the media industries.
Labour will work with
industry training bodies, the European Commission, TECs and local
authorities to focus on more suitable training that combines skills for
audio-visual production and computing and multi-media authoring. We
support the recommendations of the Select Committee that film training
should include training in computer and new technologies. Just as
important, courses should include the development of the marketing and
production skills that will bridge the gap between creativity and
copyright will be essential to facilitate content provision on the new
networks. As in other areas, the aim of copyright law is to deepen
society's library of knowledge by rewarding content creators with
recognise that the extension of copyright to electronic networks - which
we believe to be essential - may be controversial for some users of
existing systems, particularly the Internet. However, without an effective
copyright framework, content creation on the networks will be discouraged,
penalising artists, researchers, companies and ultimately users.
There must therefore be a proper
legal mechanism for securing copyright to electronic material, and
charging for its use. This should not, of course, limit the use of the
Internet as at present, allowing for full freedom of expression; copyright
should run alongside such freedom, and should not inhibit it.
We are particularly concerned
about the potential evasion of copyright in the transmission and
subsequent copying of music across the new networks. The development of
potential piracy stations like the "celestial jukebox" could
pose a serious threat to the whole music industry in Britain.
We therefore propose that the
definition of issuing copies in existing copyright law be specifically
extended to include digital distribution through the new electronic
the case with paper material, and the "fair use" rules that
permit limited legal photocopying of copyrighted artifacts, so there must
be some provision for a right to copy under similar terms across the
electronic media. This would of course be particularly important for
educational and scientific purposes.
Copyright enforcement will be no
more watertight on the new networks than it is for compact discs or books
today. Instead of perfect solutions, we need protection that is adequate
and effective enough for content providers to feel safe putting their
creative work onto the networks.
Complex legal and technical
solutions will need to develop, and to adapt as technology
Labour will therefore establish a small legal advisory panel to find
these solutions. An urgent report on pre-emptive immediate changes to
primary legislation will be requested from the panel, followed by a longer
term watching brief to identify changes that might be required in the
light of case law.
Copyright law must also match
the global reach of the new technologies. We need greater copyright
harmonisation than has so far been achieved by the Bern Convention or the
Treaty of Rome or European directives.
The UK should take a leading
role in enacting the necessary international agreements within the
European Union and, together with the United States, on the international
stage, particularly within the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
We believe that
governments generally should foster a culture where intellectual property
is seen to have fundamental social and economic value and where illicit
copying is felt to be as serious a crime as other forms of robbery.
Information-rich economies like the UK can only benefit from such a
one step towards this goal, we suggest that it might be possible to
request company auditors (as happens to an extent in Italy) to look at the
status of software systems in a company when carrying out the annual
One of the great attractions of the new networks is that they
allow freedom of speech. Already, organisations like Greennet and Poptel
in the UK are using the Internet to gather information and communicate
Labour welcomes this extension of freedom of speech and would be wary
of any censorship that restricted it.
But freedom of expression
carries with it special responsibilities. The right to free speech must be
balanced by the right of others to be protected from harm. The United
Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes that some
restrictions on freedom of speech are permissible but stresses that these
must be "necessary" and "provided in law".
As elsewhere, this means that
restrictions must be for a defined legitimate purpose, and must not exceed
Labour would limit governmental intervention to these defined
legitimate purposes: action against incitement to racial hatred, action to
protect minors, and action against criminal activity such as money
laundering that would be illegal elsewhere.
The protection of children, from
activities such as paedophilia rings, will be particularly important.
Labour welcomes the
current policy of self-regulation by some network operators, such as in
JANET and SuperJANET. Where statutory regulation is necessary, the public
must have confidence in the openness and accountability of the regulator,
as described in paragraph 4.5 above. And once network operators have
demonstrated that it is possible to allow parents to have control over
access to sensitive material by young children, we would extend the ITC's
decision to exclude video-on-demand from watershed requirements to the new
important that privacy is rigorously protected over the new networks, for
both personal and commercial reasons. We do not accept the "clipper
chip" argument developed in the United States for the authorities to
be able to swoop down on any encrypted message at will and unscramble it.
The only power we would
wish to give to the authorities, in order to pursue a defined legitimate
anti-criminal purpose, would be to enable decryption to be demanded under
judicial warrant (in the same way that a warrant is required in order to
search someone's home).
Attempts to control the use of
encryption technology are wrong in principle, unworkable in practice, and
damaging to the long-term economic value of the information networks.
There is no fundamental difference between an encrypted file and a locked
safe. A safe may be effectively impregnable in that the effort taken to
open it would destroy the contents. An encryption algorithm, similarly,
may be effectively unbreakable.
Furthermore, the rate of change
of technology and the ease with which ideas or computer software can be
disseminated over the Internet and other networks make technical solutions
unworkable. Adequate controls can be put in place based around current
laws covering search and seizure and the disclosure of information. It is
not necessary to criminalise a large section of the network-using public
to control the activities of a very small minority of law-breakers.
In all other areas,
privacy must be rigorously protected, particularly in the light of the
potential for secondary, micro-marketing on the new networks. The Data
Protection Act already applies to personal information held in relation to
computerised services and providers should be aware of their
responsibilities under the Act. We would wish to consult with the
Registrar to ensure that the provisions of the Act provide adequate
protection for new digital services.
As long as sources were only
traced when specific legal permission for defined reasons had been given,
and this process were openly monitored, we believe the arrangements set
out above would provide the most appropriate balance between freedom of
speech and freedom from harm.
Getting the Infrastructure in Place
Ensuring Social Use