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

Members of the UK Liberal Democrat party are angry that one of their own put through an onerous web blocking amendment to the Digital Economy Bill. This dangerous  amendment provides for web blocking by  courts, in addition to  3-strikes provisions.  It could usher in  a bi-directional blocking of the UK Internet.

The amendment was tabled by a Lord who is a partner in a law firm with entertainment and pharmaceutical industry clients. And guess what? The amendment was written by the British music industry!

 

The UK Liberal Democrat party is in uproar over the Digital Economy Bill and specifically an amendment tabled and pushed through the house of Lords by the LibDem peers Lord Clement Jones, and Lord Razzall. The amendment - 120A -  will permit courts to order the blocking of websites by ISPs, following legal action by rights holders and could have a

major chilling effect on the UK Internet over time.

 

An emergency motion condemning Amendment  120A has been tabled, and an Open Letter has been signed by  25 of the Party's election candidates.

 

The emergency motion is tabled for debate at the Party's spring conference   this coming week-end.

 

The Open Letter to the LibDem Party says that Amendment 120A is ‘draconian and unworkable'. They argue it will empower the rich and well-connected to close down websites.

 

The Emergency Motion to the LibDem Spring conference states that such court orders for blocking websites would be open to widespread civil liberties abuses and could lead to the closure of wifi-hotspots. It was tabled by Bridget Fox , a Liberal Democrat candidate at the forthcoming UK election.

 

The two Lords who tabled the amendment have sent replies via the Party's website. However, it is notable that the two replies seem to repeat the same words, and do not address the concerns of the Party members.

 

Perhaps because they struggle to  defend  their action in the face of civil liberties criticism. As I previously reported, Amendment 120A was drafted by the BPI which represents the four major recorded music labels, EMI, Warner, Sony BMG and Universal  (British IFPI).

Amendment 120A, amends UK copyright law via the mis-named Digital Economy Bill, which will also introduce a 3-strikes provision into UK law.  Under Amendment 120A,  the court may order the blocking of a  website if it contains a ‘substantial' amount of content which infringes copyright, and if the website owner has not  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.  This will affect  anyone who runs a website, especially an information website or a search engine.

Combined with the 3-strikes provisions in the Digital Economy Bill, the effect could be a two-way blocking of the UK Internet. That is what the LibDem members are concerned about. 

 

Amendment 120A  follows Section 97A of the Copyright Act (CDPA), which facilitates court actions by rights-holders, and creates a new Section 97B. The BPI have been campaigning for this amendment for over a year.

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

 

Lord Tim Clement-Jones is a partner in the international law firm DLA Piper, which acts for intellectual property and pharmaceuticals clients . Tim Clement-Jones entered in the Register of the House of Lords   that he acts for pharmaceuticals firm,  Eli Lily and medical technology firm, Transmedics.

 

DLA Piper's website states  that it advises clients on "digital media content, e-commerce/Internet transactions, and privacy protection. We also help develop compliance programs in response to new corporate policies or national and local government regulations, including IP".  The firm advises companies and wealthy individuals in the media industry. 

It has experts in " the protection and exploitation of brands , parallel imports and counterfeits"  as well as "trademark and copyright infringement on the Internet". 


In other words, Lord Clement-Jones stands to personally benefit from the Digital Economy Bill.

 

 
***

 

The Open Letter from 25 prospective candidates in the forthcoming  UK general election. 

Giving the power to block whole sites, in the world of user-generated content, is both draconian and unworkable.

Using the courts runs the same risk as the libel laws, of empowering the rich and well-connected to close down comment from those who may have right on their side, but cannot afford to contest cases.

By encouraging self-censorship to avoid possible penalty, this legislation could act perniciously against free speech in a free society.

We fear that these amendments take a public position that is at odds with our Party's values, our other policies, and the reality of the digital environment.

As prospective MPs, we ask our current Parliamentary colleagues to think again.

 

 

 

The Liberal Democrat conference Emergency Motion on the Digital Economy Bill,   main points:

 

Conference believes that this amendment to the Digital Economy Bill

a) would alter UK copyright law in a way which would permit courts to order the blocking of websites

following legal action by rights-holders

b) would be open to widespread anti-competitive and civil liberties abuses, as the experience with similar webblocking provisions in the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act illustrates

c) could lead to the closure of internet hotspots and open wifi operated by small businesses, local councils,

universities, libraries and others

d) could have a chilling effect on the internet, freedom of expression, competition and innovation as Internet Service Providers take down and/or block websites to avoid facing the costs of legal action

e) may be illegal under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and other EU law

 

Conference condemns

a) web-blocking and disconnecting internet connections

b) the threat to the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals and businesses from the monitoring of their

internet activity, the potential blocking of their websites and the potential termination of their internet

connections.

c) the Digital Economy Bill for focusing on illegal filesharing rather than on nurturing creativity and

innovative business models.

Conference supports

a) the principle of net neutrality, through which the freedom of connection with any application to any party is

guaranteed, except to address security threats or due to unexpected network congestion.

b) the rights of creators and performers to be rewarded for their work in a way that is fair, proportionate and

appropriate to the medium.

 

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 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 Liberal Democrats rise against Net blocking http://www.iptegrity.com 11March  2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten, European expert on Internet policy and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She is an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on Cross-border flow of Internet traffic and Internet freedom (MSI-INT). She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012. Iptegrity  offers expert insights into Internet policy. Iptegrity has a core readership in the Brussels policy community, and has been cited in the media. Please acknowledge Iptegrity when you cite or link.  For more, see IP politics with integrity

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