Lib Dems vote for repeal of Digital Economy laws

A special conference of the party has formalised calls to scrap the website-blocking and user-disconnection elements of the Digital Economy Act
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The Liberal Democrats have urged the party's representatives in the coalition government to repeal the website-blocking and user-disconnection elements of the Digital Economy Act.

On Sunday, a special conference of the party voted for "Liberal Democrat ministers and MPs to take all possible steps to ensure the repeal of those sections of the Digital Economy Act 2010 which are inconsistent with policy motion 'Freedom, Creativity and the Internet' as passed at Spring Conference 2010".

The clause was part of a wider resolution to confirm the Liberal Democrats' coalition with the Conservatives. The special conference was organised in the wake of the party's rise to power to vote on the resolution and affirm party policies in the context of the coalition.

At the Liberal Democrats' spring conference in March, parliamentary candidates Bridget Fox and Julian Huppert introduced an emergency motion in reaction to the website-blocking measures in the then Digital Economy Bill. The measures give the business secretary — then Labour's Lord Mandelson, now the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable — certain discretionary powers to allow rights holders to force ISPs to block websites carrying a significant amount of copyrighted material.

The March emergency motion — titled 'Freedom, Creativity and the Internet' — stated that these measures are open to abuse and "could have a chilling effect on the internet, freedom of expression, competition and innovation as Internet Service Providers take down and/or block websites to avoid facing the costs of legal action".

Passed almost unanimously, the emergency motion condemned "website-blocking and disconnecting internet connections as a response to copyright infringement". The suspension of accounts of persistent infringers is a discretionary option kept open for the business secretary by the Digital Economy Act.

The March motion also attacked the bill in general for "focusing on illegal file-sharing rather than on nurturing creativity".

The Lib Dem peer Lord Clement-Jones first introduced the idea of account suspensions to the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Lords, alongside the Tories. Since then, however, the party has resolutely turned against such elements of the legislation, and in April, party leader Nick Clegg said the act "badly needs to be repealed, and the issues revisited".

On Monday, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was unable to provide any information as to whether the coalition government might amend or repeal any sections of the Digital Economy Act.

There is currently no minister in charge of the Digital Britain portfolio, although the government was apparently discussing the appointment on Monday. The brief was held before the election by Labour's Stephen Timms, who operated under the auspices of BIS, but some elements of the Digital Economy Act such as broadcasting regulation are the responsibilities of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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