The Digital Economy Bill, which has been the subject of lobbying and protest from digital rights groups, received Royal Assent on 8 April 2010. The Bill was introduced to address findings in the Digital Britain Report, a report which was the subject of close scrutiny, research and consultation. The same cannot be said of the Bill itself.
The Bill was passed during the so-called Parliamentary “wash-up” period - the short period of time between the calling of an election and the dissolution of Parliament. Many consider that it is entirely inappropriate for a Bill of such importance to have been passed using a process predominantly designed to push through uncontroversial and unopposed Bills and are concerned at the lack of proper scrutiny and Parliamentary debate afforded to it – reportedly, only 40 of some 640 MPs attended the second reading.
The Digital Economy Act 2010 includes, among others, the following new measures:
- A duty onOfcom to report on the UK’s communications infrastructure
- Obligations on internet service providers (ISPs) to reduce online copyright infringement -
- Provisions relating to website blocking
- Increased penalties for copyright infringement
By far the most hotly debated of its provisions are those relating to copyright infringement and website blocking.
The Act gives the Secretary of State the power to impose technical obligations on ISPs to take measures against subscribers who have had more than a prescribed threshold of copyright infringement reports made against them – the so-called “three strikes rule”. These measures include limiting internet connection speed and suspending the subscriber’s service altogether. Further, the Act contains a website-blocking provision, which provides for the granting of blocking injunctions by a court in respect of websites which are being or are likely to be used in connection with copyright infringing activity.
For content creators, the passing of the Act is a welcome move and a step closer to addressing the problem of peer-to-peer file sharing. For ISPs, internet subscribers and WiFi providers such as internet cafés, schools and universities, the prospect of these new powers being implemented is a daunting one.
However, only time will tell what the full effect of these provisions will be, with the most controversial, including the subscriber suspension and website blocking measures, to be the subject of further scrutiny and debate and requiring secondary legislation before they can be implemented.