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Digital Economy Bill: Loggerheads Are Here Again Thanks To New Clause

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If you thought consensus had broken out over how ISPs should tackle illegal downloading, think again. Though many service providers were now on board with basic principles of monitoring consumers’ online activity and warning them about freeloading, a new measure introduced to the Digital Economy Bill on Monday has again made fundamental opposition a feature of the debate…

New blocking measure: Responding to concern that Clause 17 would have given Lord Mandelson sweeping powers to amend future copyright law as is seen fit, the government (in Amendment 120A) proposed scrapping the portion in favour of a new measure that would allow the High Court to issue injunctions that force ISPs to block access to services hosting infringing content. The House Of Lords, currently debating the bill at report stage before it goes to the Commons, adopted the amendment to the bill.

Web giants oppose: Cue an outcry from 17 of the most influential internet companies, including Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Facebook, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) and leading ISPs. Writing in the FT, they lament “very poor lawmaking”: “(It) would both widely disrupt the internet in the UK and elsewhere and threaten freedom of speech and the open internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended.”

Big Music likes it: But the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) trade group, responding to that letter via press release, accuses the group of “pure scaremongering”. It reckons the new measure is “a clear and sensible mechanism to deal with illegal websites”.

The government’s Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones , who is steering the DEB through the Lords, told the house: “This remedy would stop the supply of illegal content by blocking it at source. … there are several websites, many of which are based outside the UK, which refuse to stop supplying access to illegal content.” Read his full justification.

The astute amongst you may remember that the BPI warned in December about exactly this issue – that much illegal activity occurs via websites, not just P2P services. So the government may be replacing Mandelson’s controversial Clause 17, but it’s replacing it with an idea suggested directly by the music business.

The bill’s spotlight proposal would see ISPs institute one of a range of “technical measures” against customers. To avoid the ethics argument, the government could have added site blocking to the list of measures.

Perhaps the spikiest part of the amendment is this – ISPs would have to pay copyright owners back the cost of their injunction application, thereby incentivising ISPs to block services even before injunctions are set to fly.

3 Responses to “Digital Economy Bill: Loggerheads Are Here Again Thanks To New Clause”

  1. I don’t think the bill says that at all! There are no fines in the drafting which would be imposed on an ISP if their customers download ilegally. The easiest approach isn’t to fine individual users, as it is totally impractical. The easiest approach is, as the drafting would like to do, block access to sites who do not engage with rightsholders. The idea of blocking access to users outside of the UK wouldn’t be feasible either and that is the choice of other jurisdictions, not the UK’s. Just because the internet is global it does not mean that legislation should be.

    All along the government have discussed ‘technical measures’ and people claimed a breach of human rights if their connections were cut. This is a suitable middle ground. Users can still have internet access, but infringing sites shouldn’t be granted access to.

    I think a lot of people are having opinions on this issue when they haven’t even read the wording of the bill. The arguments for this amendment are sound and perhaps it could be worded slightly better, but the principle is good.

  2. I have to disagree with Eric’s comment. Mainly because sites will host copyrighted material would not be shut down, they would be blocked so they cannot be accessed in the UK. Of course no other country in the world has such a bill so everyone else outside the UK can continue to access the content.

    The worrying thing about this is that the government is wading into an argument it doesn’t fully understand and as a result will try to put a block on access to the internet via ISPs. If illegal content is downloaded the ISP would be penalised and fined. Is that a fair response when the easiest approach is to fine the culprit in the first place?

  3. I think amendment 120A is a good move! Contrary to the letter in the FT it is NOT a free speech issue, but one of plain and simple copyright infringement. It infuriates me that big businesses are allowed to protect their interests but when the music industry tries to protect theirs, it’s allegedly an affront on civil liberties! I agree with the BPI that the outcry against it is scaremongering, as the clause clearly states that it is a legislative back stop after all reasonable measures have been taken to engage with the offending party and correct the issue. Any oppositions to this clause are in support of copyright infringement and companies that utilise IP shouldn’t be facilitating this argument. It can only be in their favour at the end of the day! If illegal sites are shut down, then it will allow them to sell their own services direct to the consumers who once visited those sites. The music industry needs to support this amendment, or it won’t make it through Commons!!!