Archive for April, 2010

DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL PASSES IN COMMONS - NML COMPLAINT

Letter to Peter Ainsworth, MP: April 9th 2010 

Dear Mr Ainsworth,

I just learnt that the Digital Economy Bill has been passed by the House of Commons after its third reading.

I confess that I am not an expert on the process by which this Bill will progress to Royal Assent, but I am given to understand that it is pretty much inevitable that it will now become law.

This appears to me to be a grave error, in that the Bill has not been adequately scrutinised by the Commons, and in my view will make a disastrous law.

I note that the Daily Telegraph has reported (for example) that:

The Bill will “…allow the Secretary of State for Business to block any site which “the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright”.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/7566427/MPs-pass-Digital-Economy-Bill.html This seems to me to mean that Google, for example, will now be illegal.  In order to find infringing material on the Internet, one needs first to search for it.

The Guardian merely stated that the “…Digital economy bill exposes broken system.  The Lords had no expertise. The MPs’ attention was elsewhere. We ended up in this mess. Time to vote for new politics.”  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/08/digital-economy-bill-exposes-broken-system
 

When reading the Hansard report on the House of Lords debates, one comment particularly struck me – that of The Earl of Erroll – who said [of the Bill]: “It is a very dangerous way in which to pass legislation; in fact, it is unethical. As I have said before, if we were directors of a company we would probably be locked up for failing to undertake proper governance. Parliament should not behave in this way.” http://wp.newmedialaw.biz/

Other sites – that publish copyright materials for example, but cannot show that they have an assignment or licence which allows them to do so – may also find themselves falling foul of this law.  I wonder, for example, if required to do so by law – whether you could evidence a licence (or assignment) of the copyright in every photograph that is published on your own website?  http://www.peterainsworth.com/index.php/Peter-Ainsworth-Photo-Gallery.html

Where similar laws have been passed (such as in Sweden, for example), it has led to a massive increase in the use of encryption software (and IP address masking software), both of which make the entire law technically impossible to enforce.  But sadly, this increase (notably in the use of encryption software) has also prevented their security services from tracking Al-Qaeda terrorist activity – which, along with copyright infringement - is also thereby made invisible and untraceable. In any event, I would be very interested to learn your views on this issue, as well as which way you voted on it (if indeed you were present when the bill was passed by the Commons).

This will have a direct effect on which way I (and I am sure many others) vote on May 6th.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Penman
Partner,  New Media Law LLP

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