The Digital Economy Act is one of the final Acts of the present Parliament, and if you are interested in web technology and the knowledge economy, then it’s easily one of the most controversial. Rather worryingly, despite the controversy, it was rushed through during the so-called “wash-up” period without meaningful debate.
Why the controversy? Well the Act contains fairly vague powers to shut down web-sites and cut-off internet access. This post deals with the former. I will blog about cutting off internet access later.
Under Section 17, the Secretary of State can put in place regulations permitting rights holders (effectively record companies, movie producers and newspapers) to obtain Court orders that require an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) to shut down “locations on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright”.
Section 17 is currently so vaguely worded that you could make a case for its’ application to Google, YouTube, Facebook, or pretty much any other site. Of course, its hard to say what this means in practice because the regulations, i.e. the detail, have not been written yet.
However, I suspect a lot of the “pain” will fall on ISPs. This is an increasing trend.
Overall, one of the most concerning things about the Act (besides the drafting) is that it has exposed an apparent lack of expertise within government as to how web technology and the knowledge economy actually operates. In a recent lapse, Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain, referred to an IP address as an “Intellectual Property address”. Given the Act that Mr Timms has just helped to introduce, this is either deeply amusing or deeply concerning – probably both.
I have discussed the law, but it’s another matter entirely as to whether websites can actually be blocked. In my experience the people who run the sort of sites that the rights holders hate tend to be 2 steps ahead of the game.
I will rant about the risk of my internet connection being throttled or cut in a couple of days.
On April 14, 2010