Ofcom to look again at Digital Economy Act

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked Ofcom to look again at controversial recommendations to block access to filesharing sites, contained within last year’s Digital Economy Act. The move comes on the back of submissions to the  coalition’s Your Freedom website, asking for public thoughts on what policy they would like enacted or changed. Deputy PM Nick Clegg commented that: “Although reform of the Digital Economy Act did not form part of the Coalition Agreement, we have listened to the views expressed. The Government will look at whether we have the right tools for the job in addressing the problem of online copyright infringement.”

The Act, brought in right at the end of the last Labour Government, received much criticism for its approach to dealing with copyright, and it’s one size fits all approach to punishing offenders. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt says that he still has “no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content.  But it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice so I have asked Ofcom to address this question.”

The review is very welcome. Many of the provisions in the Act were deeply illiberal, making Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the internet’s policeman, and could have resulted in families losing legitimate internet access. The introduction of the Bill in Parliament  has also faced legal challenge, and there will be a  judicial review of sections 3 to 18 of the Act in March. The Judicial Review has been brought by ISPs BT and Talk Talk, on the ground that the Act was not notified under the Technical Standards Directive, and failed to properly comply with other European legislation relating to eCommerce, data protection and privacy, and is disproportionate.

The issue of the Digital Economy Act has been raised at Liberal Democrat party conference and by various Liberal Democrat campaigners, including Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and GLA list member Bridget Fox. The blocking measures still need more legislation to be enacted, and the continuing debate will certainly be seen as another example of the Liberal Democrats directly influencing government policy.

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