The Digital Economy Bill has gone through its first reading in the House of Commons, one day after its third and final reading in the Lords.
The reading, which simply involved presenting the bill to MPs, took place on Tuesday. It did not involve any debate, as the MPs had not yet had a chance to examine its contents.
Before the end of the current sitting parliament, there will be one more reading (covering the general principles) and probably no committee stage, or at best a very truncated one (committee stage usually involves several sessions a week for three to four weeks, but there's simply not enough time before the election).
The report (debating) stage is likely to last an hour or so, on the last day of parliament. During that time, a new clause, changing UK copyright law, will be introduced and no doubt deeply scrutinised by those MPs who are not out campaigning to hang onto their seats.
Meanwhile, the government released an explanatory document on Wednesday, possibly as a primer for those MPs who wish to do their duty and pick apart one of the most significant pieces of technology-related legislation in UK history.
The document explains in quite understandable language what the bill will contain — except, of course, for the bit that will replace Clause 18. It states clearly that no technical measure (throttling, filtering, suspension, etc.) can be imposed on a subscriber "until the appeals process has been exhausted, or the subscriber has decided not to proceed further with an appeal, or the time limit for appeals has expired".
It also says this: "The government believes that most of the costs of subscriber appeals to an independent person determining appeals or to the First-tier Tribunal should be funded by industry, so that a subscriber does not face significant costs in making an appeal".
We still don't know how many 'strikes' a subscriber will get before something nasty happens to them — that will have to be determined in a future code by Ofcom. Here, however, is a cut-out-and-keep guide to the process of identifying copyright infringements and targeting the individual:
• Copyright owners identify cases of infringement and send details including IP addresses to ISPs;
• The ISPs verify that the evidence received meets the required standard, and link the infringement to subscriber accounts;
• The ISPs send letters to subscribers identified as apparently infringing copyright. They keep track of how often each subscriber is identified;
• If asked to do so by a relevant copyright owner, ISPs supply a copyright infringement list showing, for each relevant subscriber, which of the copyright owner’s reports relate to that subscriber. The list does not reveal any subscriber's identity;
• Copyright owners use the list as the basis for a "Norwich Pharmacal" court order to obtain the names and addresses of some or all of those on the list. At no point are individuals’ names or addresses passed from the ISP to a copyright owner without a court order;
• Copyright owners send "final warning" letters direct to infringers asking them to stop online copyright infringement and giving them a clear warning of likely court action if the warning is ignored; and
• Copyright owners take court action against those who ignore the final warning.