The controversial clause of the Digital Economy Bill which allows the Secretary of State to make changes to copyright law using secondary legislation, is to be diluted after a severe backlash from consumer groups, members of the public, businesses and several members of the House of Lords. Clause 17 has been criticised for giving the Secretary of State broad powers to deal with copyright infringement without adopting the full legislative process, and a number of amendments have now been proposed to ensure a greater level of parliamentary scrutiny when changes to the law are being tabled. Two Lords have also demanded the deletion of the clause altogether.
The Conservative peer Lord Lucas has proposed a further amendment to the Bill suggesting that search engines be exempt from copyright infringement law. He claims this will give search engine providers a "standing and non-exclusive licence" to index the content of web pages. Search engines already carry out this process to allow users to find information on sites relevant to the user's search, but recently this has been criticised by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who believes that search engines have been "stealing" his companies' news stories in this way since the providers do not pay to copy the stories.
Lord Lucas has also withdrawn a proposed amendment to force companies claiming copyright infringement to quantify exactly their financial losses. This has been withdrawn on the basis that it is not possible in practice (without breaching data protection law or the Computer Misuse Act) to track all individuals who download infringing materials from a peer-to-peer site. This aspect of the Bill will instead focus on tracking those who upload materials and make them available for download.
A consultation has also been launched into another proposal mentioned in the Digital Britain report – a possible tax of 50p per month on telephone landlines, to help fund the improvement of the UK's broadband network and deliver next generation access speeds of at least 40Mbps to 90% of the population by 2017. The consultation also invites respondents to comment on what the best methods are for delivering better quality broadband services. The consultation closes on 1 April 2010 and is available at http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file54154.pdf