The House of Lords has diminished the powers proposed to be granted to the Secretary of State under the Digital Economy Bill to amend copyright law in the future.
Clause 17 of the Digital Economy Bill (the Bill) would have empowered the Secretary of State to amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which underpins all current copyright law in the UK. It proposed that the Secretary of State be granted powers to introduce statutory instruments "for the purpose of reducing the infringement of copyright by means of the internet".
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) had sought the powers in order to allow the government to take action if copyright infringement methods evolved in the future.
However, following increased lobbying by internet industry stakeholders such as Google, eBay and Facebook, and from consumers, the Government announced amendments to the Bill on 13 January 2010 to significantly curtail these powers. The ability of the Secretary of State to change primary legislation has been limited and requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the infringement of copyright is having a serious adverse effect on business or consumers, and that making any amendment is a proportionate way to address that effect. Further, any changes to copyright law would now need to be approved by Parliament, and would be subject to a 60 day consultation period.
Despite conceding qualifications to Clause 17 of the Bill, BIS has maintained that "we would not have written it into the Bill if we did not think it was needed". However, it is uncertain whether the Bill will be passed before this year's general election without these compromises. The Bill is due to enter the report stage on 1 March 2010, where it will be further scrutinised by the House of Lords.