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Lords tone down Digital Bill but continue to generate controversy

Simon Quicke

The progress of the Digital Economy Bill through parliament continues to spark concerns about the way the government intends to protect copyright.

One of the main worries was around Clause 17, which would have given the power to make changes to the law with little consultation at a later date with a fairly open-ended remit to allow the government to react to changes in technology.

But the move by the Liberal Democrats to placate those worried about Clause 17 by tabling an amendment to the Bill might have opened up more problems with a suggested power to give the high court the right to issue an injunction against a site hosting copyrighted material.

Liberal peer Lord Clement-Jones has been leading the fight against Clause 17 and it was his amendment that has been voted in rather than the original clause.

The headline writers immediately suggested this might well mean the likes of YouTube can be taken down by the government and it highlights the difficulties for those attempting to fight back against illegal file sharers.

But lawyers have welcomed the solution to the Clause 17 problem pointing out that it is fairer than what was originally being proposed.

"Clause 17 would have given the executive powers to change the rules with little or no opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny," said Tony Ballard, partner at London media law firm Harbottle and Lewis.

"The House of Lords' ingenious solution yesterday leaves the substantive law unchanged but gives the courts a procedural remedy to combat infringement by requiring ISPs in appropriate circumstances to prevent access to "online locations" where the accessible content, or some of it, infringes copyright," he added.

Throughout the process those in the software industry lobbying for copyright protection including the Federation Against Software Theft (FASTIiS) have consistently called for strong measures to counter file sharing.

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