The Closing of the Net  "original and valuable"  Times Higher Education

A Lib Dem amendment to UK copyright law, via the Digital Economy Bill, will mean that websites could be blocked on the say-so of rights-holders. The amendment is close to one put forward by the BPI (British IFPI) and is a provision which the music industry is actively lobbying for. Can the LibDems continue to have civil liberties credentials?

 ***Amendment 112 has been altered, and replaced by Amendment 120A. This amendment equally raises many concerns regarding possible blocking of websites. It is a joint LibDem/Conservative amendment. It is irreconcilable with any party which appropriates the civil liberties cloak.  ***


The Liberal Democrats  are proposing to alter UK copyright law, in a way which will permit courts to order the blocking of websites  following legal action by rights-holders. They have moved an  amendment    to the Digital Economy Bill,  now in its second debate in the House of Lords. The proposers of the amendment are  two industrialists, Lord Clement Jones and Lord Razzall.

 The LibDem amendment  has serious implications for anyone who runs a website, especially an information website or a search engine. Depending on how it is used and applied, it could have a major chilling effect on the UK Internet over time.


The legal test for whether the court may

order the blocking is whether the website contains a ‘substantial' amount of content which infringes copyright, and whether or not the website owner has taken ‘reasonable steps' to remove it. The court could then order the Internet Service Providers to implement automated blocks against that website. There is no requirement for the claimant to prove actual damage as a result of the claimed infringement.


The amendment is similar to an amendment proposed by the BPI in their response to the government's P2P consultation last anutmn. (see link below). The wording has changed, but the meaning is the same.


It amends Section 97 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. Section 97a is used by rights-holders to take out injunctions against ISPs. This amendment creates a Section 97b, which would specifically permit an injunction for the purposes of asking the ISP to take blocking action against websites.

It is a dangerous amendment for the UK Parliament to agree to, since there are test cases on this matter in Europe. Specifically, the case of Sabam v Scarlet, which has been referred to the European Court of Justice.  

There are many concerns about the Digital Economy Bill, which will implement a graduated response system that includes cutting off Internet users as a sanction for copyright enforcement - as admitted by the government Minister Lord Young of Norwood Green in the House of Lords (see my previous article on this matter).


This latest amendment would supplement the powers given to the rights-holders under the Digital  Economy Bill, and  takes the UK even closer to chilled and censored Internet.  


It is somewhat  disingenuous of the Lib Dems to position themselves as supporters of civil liberties, and propose an amendment such as this. It contradicts the position taken by their colleagues in the European Parliament, who ensured that Amendment 138 could be voted and who are now opposing the ACTA - Anti-counterfeiting Trade agreement. Those MEPs opposing  Internet blocking measures in the European Parliament include Catherine Bearder, who represents the South-east of England.


It is also surprising of the Conservatives, given the strong position against electronic surveillance taken by David Davies.


Amendment 112, Lord Clement Jones and Lord Razzall, can be viewed on the Open Rights Group website.

Amendment 120A is also on the Open Rights Group website with a legal analysis


All amendments to the Digital Economy Bill are available on the UK Parliament website.


See the BPI proposal for Article 97B of the CDPA submitted a year ago to the government’s Digital Britain consultation.


A defence of the amendment by Lord Clement Jones is published on the LibDem website.  Be very wary of anything which says 'it will ...' or 'the intention is..'  Ask instead where will Lord Clement Jones be when the injunctions are filed and the courts are taking decisions.




This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) UK web blocking amendment from LibDems  3 March 2010









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