Digital Economy Act provisions delayed

Planned internet anti-piracy measures will be delayed until 2014 at the earliest after internet service providers (ISPs) mounted a partially successful legal challenge.

This means that terms of the Digital Economy Act (DEA), requiring ISPs to send warnings letters and threats of disconnection to their customers suspected of illegally sharing copyrighted material, will not come into effect for at least another two years.

Although a judicial review in March found largely in favour of the government, the court upheld a claim brought by BT and TalkTalk over the costs that ISPs would incur. Now the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) says a new impact assessment of the legislation will have to be carried out, resulting in a delay before the measures can be implemented.

Consequently the first letters of warning will not hit offenders’ doormats until 2014 at the earliest.

This provoked an angry reaction from BPI, the body that represents the British recorded music industry, who called on the government to “take decisive action”.

A spokesperson told Techworld: “It has been two years now since the Digital Economy Act was passed and we have still not had the code [of implementation] published. Whether we continue to grow and become an exporting industry that creates jobs depends on the decisions the Government takes.”

But ISPA, the trade body that represents ISPs, told Techworld that “a number of important practical details” in the implementation of the legislation still need to be agreed.

Pressing for a different course of action to tackle internet piracy, an ISPA spokesperson said: “[A more] effective solution to the problem of users accessing unlawful content is for reform of the licensing framework, so that legal content can be distributed online in a way that consumers are demanding.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it would continue to work with industry on how they can better tackle online piracy.

This is the latest twist in a long-running legal battle over legislation that was rushed through parliament under the previous Labour government in 2010.  ISPs have fiercely opposed the measures and argue that the rules will cause an invasion of users’ privacy, as well as forcing a disproportionate cost onto the ISPs themselves.

While the record and film industries claim the legislation is necessary for the creative sector's survival – a report in 2010 claimed internet piracy cost €10bn and 186,000 jobs in Europe – ISPs have made no secret of their wish not to be involved in ‘policing’ their customers.

In 2009, the head of BT’s consumer division called the record industry’s claims “melodramatic” and said that ISPs would suffer more in costs incurred by the rules than the total amount of losses caused by internet piracy.

With the majority of the DEA's provisions intact following the judicial review, internet freedom campaign organisation Open Rights Group warned of potentially grave unintended consequences, such as the threat to publicly available Wi-Fi connections and the risk of innocent users having their connection withdrawn.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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