Showing posts with label law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label law. Show all posts

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Digital Economy Act 2010

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What is the Digital Economy Act?

The Digital Economy Act is a newly passed piece of British legislation that is meant to protect copyright online and increase regulation and control of the way people use the Internet.

What can you do about this?

  • Ask your candidates whether they oppose the Act. If your MP didn't bother to vote, ask why. Given the important implications this legislation has, it's vital that politicians make their position on the issue clear. E-mail your candidates directly using this tool:

  • Inform your friends about the implications of the Act and the way it threats civil liberties and the future of Internet use.

  • Join the Open Rights Group's Action e-mail list. This will keep you informed on further developments and give practical advice on how you can protest against the Digital Economy Act:
How did it happen?
  • The entertainment industry is refusing to adapt to new models, clinging to obsolete 20th Century thinking.
  • The Bill was drafted by unelected officials after lobbying from the entertainment industry.
  • It was passed in a hurry during the Parliamentary "wash up" process without full scrutiny.
Why should you be worried?
  • Websites will be blocked for alleged copyright infringement.
  • Families accused of sharing copyrighted files will be disconnected without trial. They will have to pay to appeal.
  • Even if you don't live in the UK, it sets a worrying precedent for other countries to follow suit.
Disconnection or "technical measures" like bandwidth throttling will kick in if file sharing does not drop by an incredible 70%. There are no alternative punishments to disconnection, no matter what the damage it will cause, and there is no statutory limit on the length of these disconnections, called, in the weasel words of the Act, "temporary account suspension".
Despite thousands of letters of concern and a petition with over 35,000 signatures of protest, the Bill was rushed through in the final days of parliament during the "wash up process" - it was not given the full scrutiny that it deserved.
This is a piece of legislation that gives potentially unlimited power to unelected officials, and assumes guilt on the part of those accused of copyright infringement. We can expect the industry lobbies to be out in force to roll back our human right to freedom of expression in the name of copyright very, very soon.
What's happening now?
Now that the Bill has been passed and the election is underway, candidates from all the main parties are keen to distance themselves from it. They admit that there are serious concerns and that the Bill did not receive the scrutiny and debate it deserves.

Dan Bull / Songwriter

Friday, August 13, 2010

Defending The Indefensible: The Defense Of Marriage Act

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Defending The Indefensible: The Defense Of Marriage Act

Guest Blogger
Alan B. Morrison

Much has been written about two recent decisions, one striking down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal benefits to same sex couples, who are legally married under the laws of their state, that are available to opposite sex married couples (Gill v. OPM), and the other invalidating California Prop 8’s elimination of the right of same sex couples to marry, which the California Supreme Court had upheld just months before (Perry v. Schwarzenegger). In both cases the federal court found that the distinction between same sex couples and opposite sex couples in the context of marriage to be wholly irrational. Although in some respects the cases raise similar legal issues, the actual operation of DOMA not only does not advance any legitimate interest in its discrimination against same sex married couples, but it actually undermines two important federal policies.

Many people who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the thousands of federal laws that DOMA governs, including many who supported its enactment, believe that this inequality was a way to save the Government money, by not offering the same benefits to married same-sex couples that are extended to married opposite sex couples. But they were wrong. A 2004 report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, found that, because of the many different ways that various federal laws treat married couples, in many cases a couple is better off not being married, even if they were just as legally wed as any other couple in their state. The most surprising finding of this study, which District Judge Joseph L. Tauro mentioned only in passing, is that, after taking into account the benefits and detriments to same sex couples, the result is that DOMA costs the United States Treasury nearly $1 billion a year – a very heavy price in any economic time for blatant discrimination.

But there is more, and it all operates to undermine other important objectives in federal laws. Over the years, Congress has established conflict of interest rules that forbid federal employees from participating in certain matters where they may have financial conflicts of interest. Thus, a person nominated to be Secretary of Energy could not own stock in ExxonMobil, and a high official in the antitrust division could not participate in a case involving a corporate merger if she were a shareholder in an objecting competitor. But telling the high official to divest or not participate is meaningless if the prohibition did not also apply to assets of the spouse, which it does. In addition, the laws that require disclosure, but not divestiture, of potential conflicts of interest, cover the spouse as well as the employee.

And that’s where DOMA comes in and makes the system quite irrational. If, as DOMA mandates, a couple is not married unless they are of the opposite sex, then none of these conflict of interest laws applies to same sex couples, thereby undercutting a significant protection for the Government and the taxpayers. Similarly, federal judges are disqualified in cases in which their spouses are parties or have a financial stake in the outcome, but DOMA bizarrely says “never mind” if the spouse is of the same sex. Yet in all other ways – including joint bank accounts - the couple is every bit as married as opposite sex couples. And with the increasing numbers of same sex married couples now in Government, the problem will only increase.

Of course, many officials whose spouse is of the same sex would insist on making disclosures about their spouse, or refuse to participate in a matter where the spouse had a financial interest that would be disqualifying if the official owned it himself. But that only means that the truly ethical person would never do what is prohibited, even if the law did not specifically say so, leaving the laws inapplicable to the very persons who most need to be subject to them.

The reason for this irrationality is obvious: any law made applicable on an across the board basis to all federal programs is almost certain to have unforeseen consequences. And when the law is an effort to strike out at less favored citizens, that likelihood is even greater. The refusal of the Defense of Marriage Act to treat legally married same sex couples identically to couples with opposite sex partners is not only unjustly discriminatory, but it produces such irrational consequences that the only way to describe it is “indefensible.” There is no place for such a law in this country, and the appellate courts should uphold Judge Tauro’s decision striking down DOMA’s discrimination as a violation of Equal Protection.

Alan B. Morrison is the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service at George Washington University Law School. You can reach him by e-mail at abmorrison at