Lords propose changes to Digital Economy Bill

The House of Lords has proposed amendments to the controversial Digital Economy Bill after debating its second reading this week.

The House of Lords has proposed amendments to the controversial Digital Economy Bill after debating its second reading this week.

The changes are aimed largely at softening its more draconian provisions and restoring balance between the rights of copyright holders and of internet users, and between administrative and judicial justice.

One of the most controversial aspects is Clause 17, which deals with copyright in the online world.

Earlier, online companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay asked business secretary Peter Mandelson, who is sponsoring the bill, to scrap the clause.

The UK's Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) said, "The proposals grant far too much control to the secretary of state, who will have the power to make specific recommendations on costs and impose an obligation on ISPs to use technical sanctions."

Lords Razzall, Clement-Jones, Whitty and Lucas gave notice of their intention to oppose the clause as it stood.

The lords also tried to protect cloud service providers such as search engines, hyperlinkers and aggregators by limiting their liability for the use of their services for illegal purposes without their explicit knowledge.

They also tried to draw a line under the past by calling for all forms of civil and criminal liability under Clauses 17 and 19 to become actionable only after the act came into force.

Further hearings are scheduled until the end of January.

The Digital Economy Bill

The Digital Economy Bill implements aspects of government policy on digital media set out in the Digital Britain White Paper published in June 2009. It proposes to:

  • Extend the role of Ofcom to include reporting on communications infrastructure and media content
  • Impose obligations on internet service providers to reduce online copyright infringement, and allow the secretary of state to amend copyright legislation to the same end
  • Allows the secretary of state to intervene in internet domain name registration
  • Require Channel Four to provide public service content on a range of media
  • Provide more flexibility over the licensing of Channel 3 and Channel 5 services and allow Ofcom to appoint providers of regional and local news
  • Modify the licensing regime to facilitate switchover to digital radio
  • Allow variation of the public service provision in Channel 3 and 5 licences
  • Provide Ofcom with additional powers in relation to electromagnetic spectrum access
  • Extend the range of video games that are subject to age-related classification
  • Make provision for the regulation of copyright licensing
  • Include non-print formats in the public lending right payment scheme.

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