The Digital Economy Act 2017, which covers a wide range of communications, IP, technology, media and data protection issues, was pushed through Parliament during the ‘wash-up’ procedure before its dissolution in the run up to the General Election.

What’s the issue?

Modern communications services are an essential utility, crucial to economic growth, social inclusion, public services and entertainment. Significant investment in communications infrastructure is required to deliver a ubiquitous service which meets current and future consumer demands.

What’s the development?

The Digital Economy Act 2017 (DEA) received Royal Assent on 27 April. Its primary focus is an overhaul of the law governing the installation and maintenance of telecoms infrastructure, as covered in more detail in our update Investing in networks for the future – regulatory developments.

What does this mean for you?

The DEA introduces a broad range of reforms in areas including electronic communications networks and services, measures to counter online bullying and restrict access to online pornography, protection of IP in broadcast material, data sharing, regulation of the BBC and direct marketing.

Read more

In addition to electronic communications networks and services, the DEA also covers a wide range of issues (the majority of which are to be dealt with under secondary legislation) including:

  • online pornography – online pornographic material will only be allowed to be made available online on a commercial basis if it is done so in such a way as to make it not normally accessible to the under 18s. Breach will be subject to fines to be imposed by a newly created age-verification regulator who will have the power to require ISPs to block access to infringing material;
  • copyright – the maximum penalty for online copyright infringement is to be raised from two to ten years under statutory instrument;
  • registered designs – secondary legislation may be introduced to allow owners of registered design rights to give online notice of their rights by reference on their products to a website of design right holders;
  • copyright in broadcasts re-transmitted online – ss73 and 73A of the CDPA are repealed. These provisions provide that copyright is not infringed where a wireless broadcast is re-transmitted by cable;
  • lending of ebooks by public libraries – s31 extends lending provisions to ebooks;
  • digital government – measures to improve the delivery of public services including provision for a single gateway to allow certain public authorities to share personal and non-personal data. Safeguards for the data are provided, in particular, by new offences for unlawful disclosure and a new code of practice;
  • additional regulator powers – Ofcom and other regulators are given various new powers, for example, Ofcom will have the power to obtain information from communications providers to help give consumers clear information on services. The ICO may be given the right to charge fees under secondary legislation;
  • direct marketing – the ICO is required to produce a Direct Marketing Code to take account of the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, which will be given statutory force, making it easier for the ICO to take action for non-compliance – it will not be legally binding but will be admissible in evidence and have to be taken into account by tribunals and courts;
  • consumer protection – a requirement to introduce a code of practice to assist social media platforms in dealing with online bullying; the option for ISPs to introduce access filters; and provisions to enable consumers to specify mobile phone bill limits.