The Second Reading of the Digital Economy Bill was held yesterday in the House of Lords. All sections of the Bill were considered, although the main focus was on clauses 4-17 that address copyright infringement. A brief summary is provided below:
- Lord Mandelson presented the Bill, outlining the two initial obligations on ISPs and explaining the rationale behind the reserve power to impose technical sanctions. He described the clauses as proportionate. Former Cabinet Minister Lord Fowler, responding on behalf of the Conservatives, described the step-by-step process outlined in the Bill as ‘correct’, subject to RHs taking action to make their products legally accessible.
- On behalf of the Lib Dems, Lord Razzall welcomed the Bill. He did, however, cite a number of sections that the Lib Dems were unhappy with. He requested that clause 6.5(b), which provides for retrospective penalties, be removed. He also questioned the lack of details on the apportioning of costs and the inclusion of clause 17. He further underlined the need to honour the principles of natural justice.
- Support for the Bill was voiced by Lord Birt, Lord Puttnam, Baroness Morris (all of whom declared rightsholder interests in this area) and Baroness Howe.
- Baroness Miller voiced strong opposition to a number of clauses in the Bill. She suggested that the Bill would protect the old model of content distribution rather than encourage new models. She also criticised the decision to make one industry pay for the protection of another and questioned clause 15, which outlines the role of the Secretary of State in defining the level of cost recovery. The Baroness further asked the Government about the effect that increased encryption, which the Bill could cause, would have on the work of law enforcement and cited the threat that the Bill posed to open wif-fi connections.
- Conservative peer Lord Lucas voiced a number of strong arguments against the Bill. He first questioned the motivation for legislation, explaining that this was protecting music companies rather than artists, and lamented the inability of music companies to offer legal alternatives. He also suggested that it should be compulsory for rightsholders to pursue legal action through the notification system, called for due process for consumers and requested that the Conservative front bench vote against clause 17.
- Lord Whitty also outlined his opposition to the proposals, questioning the suggested cost to the rightsholder industry, the potential of the user to breach users’ human rights and the lack of focus on education and alternative models of content distribution.
- Lib Dem Culture Media and Sport Spokesperson Lord Clement-Jones expressed concerns around the power that the Bill granted to the Secretary of State. Conservative Shadow Culture Media and Sport Minister Lord Howard agreed that there would have to be close scrutiny of clause 11 to understand the power being given to the Secretary of State.
At this stage of the game it is difficult to tell how this Digital Economy Bill will pan out because it seems to be getting some degree of qualifed support from all parties at the Second Reading stage.
The debate in full is available here. I understand that the Committee Stage of the Bill will begin on January 6th. Also I am indebted to the ISPA Secretariat for this input which is mostly a plagiarism of their report. It is a full time job keeping an eye on this stuff.