Sections of a website-blocking amendment to the Digital Economy Bill follow, almost word-for-word, a proposal made by UK music industry body the BPI, prompting accusations of undue influence.
The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones, who along with the Conservative peer Lord Howard of Rising tabled Amendment 120A, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that there had been "a mixture of influences" on the amendment. "The original basis could have been suggested by the BPI, but I think other amendments were made to it that weren't put forward by the BPI," he said.
"Further amendments this week will be put forward that do not come from the BPI. It's not like we're some pushover — we listen to everyone."
On Thursday, Open Rights Group chief Jim Killock published a blog post linking to what appears to be a BPI proposal put forward by the industry lobbyists as a way of changing Clause 17, a part of the bill that would have given the business secretary the right to change copyright law at will. The metadata associated with the document suggests it was authored by a member of the BPI's legal team.
"Amendments often come from lobby groups, not least because it's the easiest way for them to show parliamentarians what they want," Killock wrote on Thursday. "But the fact that twice — with the original copyright by diktat proposal and then the web blocking proposal — the BPI essentially got to write what they wanted and get it proposed more or less wholesale as law, in such a tremendously sensitive area and in such a one-sided manner, shows something is very wrong with the way this debate is being conducted."
Asked by ZDNet UK whether the BPI had undue influence on the Digital Economy Bill lawmaking procedure, Clement-Jones said the suggestion was "absolute nonsense".
"Getting rid of Clause 17 demonstrates that," he said. "If this was a conspiracy, why on earth would we have got rid of Clause 17? The BPI, the MPA [the Motion Picture Association] — they wanted Clause 17."
At the start of March, Clause 17 was replaced by Amendment 120A, after Liberal Democrat and Conservative Lords suggested letting copyright holders get High Court injunctions that would force ISPs to block access to websites that have received copyright-infringement claims.
Although Amendment 120A closely follows the BPI proposal, it does add certain conditions that are not in the BPI document, such as "the extent to which the copyright owner has made reasonable efforts to facilitate legal access to content", and "the importance of preserving human rights, including freedom of expression, and the right to property".
The amendment, as tabled, also left out a vast chunk of the BPI proposal that would have reinstated the thrust of the original Clause 17, giving the secretary of state the "power to amend section 97B [the bulk of Amendment 120A] following review of technological developments".
Clement-Jones added that further amendments would be tabled by 5pm on Thursday that would "try and redress some of the balance in the clause". He said the amendments contained "a bit more about the cost situation [and] a bit more on the notifications required to websites and the duties to ISPs".
"People will have to judge whether they think that's improved the clause or not," Clement-Jones said.
ZDNet UK approached the BPI for comment on the leaked document, but had received none at the time of writing.