Thursday 10 December 2009

Peers flesh out Digital Economy Bill

Last week the House of Lords greeted the Digital Economy Bill with (almost) universal approval in its Second Reading. Most agreed with the sparkling Lord Mandelson when he said: ‘I recognise that this House is probably the one place in Britain where peer-to-peer file-sharing is associated more with passing notes in the Lords’ tea room than with piracy, but, joking aside, this is a major problem for Britain’s creative industries.’ The commonest criticism was ‘too little, too late’ – why didn’t it cover camcorder crime (recording a movie in a cinema and uploading it to the net) or legalize format-shifting?

Yesterday some amendments to be moved in committee were published. They include two interesting new clauses:

"Obligation to block access to a website:
(1) This section applies if it appears to a copyright owner that a website is infringing his copyright for gain.
(2) The owner may seek a declaration from a court that it is satisfied, on the evidence available, that such an infringement is taking place, and that notice of the infringement has been given and has not resulted in the infringement ceasing.
(3) An internet service provider shall, on the presentation of the declaration block access to the website from its services."

"Obligations on copyright holders: Copyright holders seeking to take action against subscribers for online copyright infringement must use the process set out in sections 4 to 8 except in cases of actual or likely extreme prejudice."

This appears to follow Lord Lucas’s suggestion in the Second Reading that:

‘it should be compulsory for copyright holders to go through the mechanism we are putting in place. It is not acceptable that we are putting in place a mechanism for them to deal with peer-to-peer file-sharing and for them still to go immediately to lawyers and harass people as the pornography industry does already. The briefing that noble Lords will have seen from Which? describes the consequences well. We should take the opportunity of this Bill to stamp that out.’

Lord Lucas got in quite a froth over porn:

We have to be careful too about the industry cloaking itself in the finery of the small, creative individual. We are not talking about the small, creative individual here, but about powerful, monopolistic industries and giving them power over citizens. We must be careful of that. A principal example is that of the pornography industry, which I have seen mentioned in one briefing but has not been spoken of in any of the speeches today. Pornography is widely used on the internet and is one of the most assiduous industries when it comes to pursuing people for supposed non-payment for illegal downloads et cetera. We have to face it that we will be putting a lot of people into the hands of pornographers and their lawyers if we are not careful about the way we draft the Bill.’

Whether or not this is a good proposal, it’s bizarre to see the creative industries and the porn business being lumped together.

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