Lords set to vote on Digital Economy Bill

Last-minute amendments to the bill, which will soon move to the House of Commons, deal with disconnection of file sharers and web-site blocking
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Peers have filed last-minute amendments to the Digital Economy Bill, which will go to vote in the House of Lords for the last time on Monday afternoon before going through to MPs.

The bill, which covers issues ranging from copyright enforcement to a broadband universal service commitment for the UK, had its first reading in the Lords on 11 November 2009. Several amendments are scheduled for debate in its third reading on Monday, including a call by Lord Whitty and the Earl of Erroll for an economic and social impact assessment of the technical measures proposed in the bill.

These technical measures could include the suspension of users' accounts if copyrighted material is unlawfully shared over their connections. Given that, Erroll and Whitty want the assessment to look into the potential effect on "subscribers, households, businesses, users of wi-fi networks, not-for-profit organisations, libraries, educational establishments and the internet network".

Erroll also put forward an amendment that would force Ofcom to set up a broadband complaint scheme, placing responsibility for each complaint with either the ISP for the owner of the communication cable.

In addition, Liberal Democrat peers Lords Clement-Jones and Razzall have proposed changes to their earlier amendment, Amendment 120A. This set out a mechanism that would allow copyright holders to gain injunctions against ISPs, in order to force the service providers to block websites that host or facilitate unlawful access to copyrighted material.

The Clement-Jones and Razzall changes call for the rights holder to warn the ISP before applying for an injunction. If the ISP then chooses to block the site without waiting for the court order, the site affected would have to be notified before the blocking and would be allowed to take their case to court in a bid to stay accessible.

A new amendment would also remove the existing presumption that an ISP refusing to block a site would have to cover the costs of any legal action that might follow.

After Monday, the bill will go to the House of Commons for further scrutiny. It is scheduled for three readings by MPs, although this process could be truncated by the general election, which expected to take place on 6 May. In the last days before a general election, a period known as 'wash-up' sometimes sees outstanding legislation fast-tracked into law.

Separately, the Digital Economy Bill was the focus of a leaked email purportedly sent by Richard Mollet, public affairs chief at the BPI, to representatives of various rights holder groups. In the Friday email, a weekly update on the progress of the legislation, the UK music industry lobbyist states that the bill's "clause on non P2P infringement is imperilled by security forces concerns".

In the email, Mollet also apparently suggests that MI5 might have "helped pay" for a TalkTalk survey, in which 71 percent of respondents aged between 18-34 said they would continue to infringe copyright despite the bill, and would use "undetectable" methods to do so. "Whether MI5 helped pay for the survey is not clear, but the results helpfully play into their court," the leaked email stated.

Mollet refused to comment on whether he had sent the email.

TalkTalk has not responded to a request for comment on whether the security services had funded its survey.

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