Academics at the London School of Economics and Political Science have attacked the Digital Economy Act, just two days before the legislation faces a judicial review.
The [act] has given too much consideration to the interests of copyright holders, while ignoring other stakeholders such as users, ISPs, and new players in the creative industry.– Bingchun Meng, LSE
In a report entitled Creative Destruction and Copyright Protection, the LSE's Bart Cammaerts and Bingchun Meng said the Digital Economy Act "gets the balance between copyright enforcement and innovation wrong". The authors said the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) technology should be encouraged to promote new business models, but the act's focus on punishing unlawful file-sharers would "stifle innovation" in the content industry.
The act sets out an enforcement framework for combating the unlawful file-sharing of copyrighted content. Although the precise nature of that enforcement remains a work in progress, there is scope for punishment to extend to the suspension of households' and businesses' internet connections for perceived repeat infringements.
"The [act] has given too much consideration to the interests of copyright holders, while ignoring other stakeholders such as users, ISPs, and new players in the creative industry," Meng said in a statement. Cammaerts added that the music industry and artists "should innovate and actively reconnect with their sharing fans rather than treat them as criminals".
Cammaerts noted that file-sharing was not the only reason creative industry profits are falling — he pointed to the rising costs of live performances and other leisure services as additional reasons. "Alternative sources of income generation for artists should be considered instead of actively monitoring the online behaviour of UK citizens," he said.
The judicial review of the act will commence on Wednesday. The review was requested in July 2010 by BT and TalkTalk, who said the act did not comply with EU laws on privacy and ISPs' responsibilities. Along with consumer and digital rights groups, the companies have also complained over the way in which the act was rushed into law just before the 2010 general election.
A key part of the enforcement process, the identification of wrongdoers by their IP addresses, has also recently been called into question by a Patents Court judge, who pointed out that a subscriber's IP address being identified as infringing copyright does not necessarily mean the subscriber did it.
The Open Rights Group (ORG) was one of the loudest voices opposing the act's passage into law. On Tuesday the organisation said it had submitted a 'friend of the court' brief to the High Court ahead of the review. This argued that "the act will undermine vital public Wi-Fi provision, makes it likely that people's sensitive personal information will be exposed, presumes people are guilty of infringement without good proof, and is reliant on insufficient evidence of wrongdoing", said the ORG.
"ORG welcomes this judicial review, which is providing some of the scrutiny and thought that should have gone into the act before it was passed," ORG chief Jim Killock said.
"We hope that this is the first step on the road to abandoning this deeply flawed act," he added. "It is an act which simply won't work except in disproportionately harming the UK's internet providers and users. We need to start again and find a new policy settlement which embraces, rather than tramples on, the exciting possibilities that the digital age offers."
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