The Digital Economy Bill passed by the House of Lords yesterday. Labour says it will bring in a clause on website blocking when the Bill goes to the House of Commons.
This is in addition to 3-strikes and automated blocking or slowing of users connections..and the government giving itself the power to take over the Internet domain registries.
It could soon be law in the UK that websites can be blocked to support copyright enforcement, if the Digital Economy Bill is passed in the House of Commons. Such a provision is on the cards following the House of Lords debate on the Digital Economy Bill last night.
The Lords discussed website blocking in light ofthe Amendment 120A from Liberal-Democrat Lord Clement-Jones (Clause 18 if reading Hansard). Amendment 120A would have allowed courts to order blocking of websites, following action by the music and entertainment industries. That amendment was dismissed on technical grounds, but the government is promising to draft an alternative which has the same effect but is technically implementable.
According to Lord Young of Norwood Green, the government minister who is steering the Bill through the Lords, the clause as originally drafted by the BPI (the four major music labels) was not enforceable and was incompatible with the Technical Standards Directive. However, he said the government has "a sincere and constructive commitment" ..." to bring forward a clause that ultimately achieves the same effect". (Hansard 15 Mar 2010: Column 476).
This would appear to mean that the government is "sincere" in wanting a provision to block websites, which I think many people will find not only unbelievable but unacceptable in a democratic society. The other measures in the Digital Economy Bill already put in the rudiments of Internet censorship. A blocking clause as indicated in this Lords debate would simply seal the deal.
Amendment 120A was proposed by Lord Clement-Jones (LibDem) and caused anger within his party to the extent that the LibDems passed an emergency motion opposing the Digital Economy Bill at their Spring conference last week-end.
Lord Howard of Rising (Conservative) was the co-sponsor of Amendment 120A. It begs the question how the Conservatives can tie up their technology stragegy, which depends on the open Internet, with support for website blocking.
Amendment 120A would have replaced the Henry VIII clause (clause 17) which would have given Lord Mandelson the power to re-write copyright law. The intention of clause 17 was to enable blocking of websites and services and action to be taken against users in situations other than p2p downloading.
It is not clear to me whether Clause 17 is in or out of the Bill, or whether the proposals on website blocking are a "compromise" to replace it.
The music industry believes that it can ramrod the Bill through Parliament before the election.
The real scandal of the Digital Economy Bill is that a law is being passed which puts at risk a most fundamental freedom to communicate, and Parliament is either too lazy or too busy (or in the pay of the music industry?) to understand what it means.
Lord Young of Norwood Green's full statement was
"I acknowledge that the noble Lords who proposed this clause share the Government's aim of addressing online infringement of copyright, which is the intention behind this clause. Our intention as the Bill moves to another place is to try to bring forward a clause that would ultimately achieve the same effect, but one which could be enforced, by proposing a power for the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to achieve the desired effect in relation to site blocking. This would allow for not only proper notification under the technical standards directive but also-this is important-proper consultation and consideration of the evidence for the need for and proportionality of the measure." (Hansard, 15 March 2010 Columns 475-476)
**Another report on the House of Lords debate on the Digital Economy Bill is in Techeye. It has an interesting quote from Lord Young of Norwood Green: "It is untrue that the government are backing protectionism as opposed to innovation." I think there are many who would take issue with him. That is why the Bill vitally needs proper debate in the House of Commons.
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) Law on website blocking to come in UK http://www.iptegrity.com 16 March 2010.