'We had no evidence for anti-piracy law', UK government admits

The UK government had 'no evidence' to support the Digital Economy Act, the UK's anti-piracy and censorship law, it has emerged in a parliamentary select committee.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

A key civil servant who worked on the UK's anti-piracy law, the Digital Economy Act, revealed during a select committee hearing in Parliament that the UK government did not collect or verify any evidence to support the copyright enforcement policies.

At the UK Parliament's select committee for Business, Innovation and Skills, it was also shown that the piracy statistics were not compiled, as rights holders were not willing to do so.

The committee was hearing evidence regarding the Hargreaves Report, a government review on intellectual property and copyright. While the proceedings were not intended to discuss the Digital Economy Act, Labour MP Anne McKechin questioned the evidence at hand.

"If I could turn to the quality of evidence. The Open Rights Group asked DCMS for evidence about illegal web content, and were told it wasn’t available. They had a similar experience with the Digital Economy Act methodology. How would you comment on their assertions? Is this consistent with basing policy on evidence?" McKechin asked Adrian Brazier, head of the Digital Economy Act implementation team.

Braizer's response shed light on the lack of evidence used to put forward the bill.

"It is reasonable to acknowledge that the Open Rights Group has something of a point about the evidence used around the Digital Economy Act. It was somewhat opaque. The impact assessment was not based on new evidence or new research. We had no independent source of information. It is probably also fair to say that the evidence we had -- had been offered by the rights-holders -- they were unwilling to lift the bonnet and let us see the engines, if you like the workings and methodology".

To clarify, McKechin said that the Open Rights Group, an Internet civil liberties organisation and critic of the Act, had not seen any methodology for the evidence to support the government's claims. She went on to ask if the Digital Economy Act team had also not been given access to the relevant data.

Braizer responded:

"That is correct. We were trying to make the best brick we could with what straw we could find. In those circumstances, I would say, however, that we were always very clear as to the provenance of the figures we were quoting. We never claimed they were government figures. We were clear that these were figures that were provided by the rights-holders. We were as transparent as we could be in those circumstances, but we could not be transparent about the workings themselves.”

In closing remarks to the questions posed to him, he stated: "This is not a comfortable position for us necessarily to be in".

The Digital Economy Act has been awash with controversy since it was first announced. When the draft bill was voted upon by members of the lower House of Commons, less than 30 members of the House voted, with the majority of those voting in favour during the 'guillotine' of the previous administration.

It was also found that lobbyists had held 'closed-door' meetings with government ministers in a bid to discuss how copyright infringers could be held accountable for their actions, with a plan to establish a committee of experts to determine whether websites and domains should be shut down or not.

Internet analyst Dr. Monica Horten argues that while the Act has now passed into law, there is only so much that can be enforced at this stage for ISPs and alleged copyright infringers.

"The Act's code of practice is needed in order to trigger the initial obligations which is the notifications sent by the ISP, to inform subscribers that they have infringed copyright and must stop", Horten said. "The code of practice sets the process between the copyright rights holders and the ISPs".

"Because the code of practice has yet to be made public, the industry is unsure of what can and cannot be enforced. The bill could be annulled by the UK Parliament. But until that code is made public, ISPs are not obliged to send copyright infringing notifications to its customers".

The law still has yet to be heard at the European Parliament and be presented to the UK House of Commons, which is expected in next year.

Proceedings can be watched from approximately 13 minutes from the start on the UK Parliament Live site.


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