Industry attacks Digital Economy Bill amendment

A measure to give courts the power to force ISPs to block suspected file-sharing sites has been condemned by BT, Google and others
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

A group of internet companies including BT, Orange, Google and Virgin Media have strongly criticised an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill approved last week by the House of Lords, saying it would harm the status of the UK as a centre for digital business.

The companies have attacked amendment 120A, which would give courts the power to force ISPs to block access to sites accused of copyright infringement.

In an open letter published on Tuesday in the Financial Times, the companies, along with the ISP Association (ISPA), celebrity Stephen Fry and others, said the measure was "very poor lawmaking" that had been "rushed through" at the tail end of the parliamentary session with no kind of consultation with consumers or industry.

The amendment is an addition to the Digital Economy Bill, outlined in the Queen's speech in November 2009, which would implement new measures to tackle copyright-infringing file-sharers. The bill would also allow the government to take over the allocation and registration of domain names by UK-based registries.

The bill has stirred up controversy since its announcement, with ISPA saying in November it "strongly opposes" the measures proposed by the government. The new measures, including repeatedly notifying users that they are suspected of sharing copyrighted material, would be funded by ISPs.

In Tuesday's letter the companies argued the amendment would mean significant alterations to the UK's legal framework, and would be unlikely to achieve its stated aims.

"This amendment not only significantly changes the injunctions procedure in the UK but will lead to an increase in internet service providers blocking websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without cases even reaching a judge," the letter stated. "The amendment seeks to address the legitimate concerns of rights-holders but would have unintended consequences that far outweigh any benefits it could bring."

The amendment stirs up "myriad legal, technical and practical issues" that have not been considered, the letter argued.

Moreover, it would harm the bill's wider goal of promoting a policy framework that supports the UK's digital economy, the companies said.

"We are particularly concerned that a measure of this kind as a general-purpose policy could have an adverse impact on the reputation of the UK as a place to do online business and conflict with the broader objectives of Digital Britain," the letter stated.

The ISPA said in November it believed the government should seek reforms to the licensing framework, which would allow legal content to be distributed online, rather than focusing solely on the enforcement of existing laws.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which represents the UK's recorded music industry, has said it supports the measures included in the bill.

The bill will have its third and final reading in the House of Lords next week, before returning to the House of Commons.

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