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October 12, 2011 | Peter Bradwell

Update: Julian Huppert's Freedoms Bill amendment and DEAct Judicial Review

(Thursday October 13th update: Julian Huppert MP has been in touch to thank supporters for their efforts and update us on the situation after he tabled his amendment. Here is what he says:

"Thank you to all those who encouraged their MPs to support my amendment to scrap parts of the Digital Economy Act. Although the time available for the debate meant that we couldn't debate my amendment, it was still valuable.

I was amazed at how many MPs came up to me to say that they had been contacted by constituents, wanting to know more about the issue and what was going to happen. Please keep track of their responses, so that we can hold them to it next time I have a chance to propose amendments. You may also want to meet your MP at some stage in a surgery, to explain to them the problems with the Digital Economy Act - most MPs don't understand it.

The government announced in response to me earlier in the debate that there would be a review of the communications sector and a new draft Bill in 2013 - I hope it will be better than the current law, and will keep working on this.")

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On Tuesday Julian Huppert MP tabled an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Bill. It was an attempt to use the Bill to repeal sections 17 and 18 of the Digital Economy Act - which set up a website blocking process for sites involved in copyright infringement - after Ofcom recently concluded the provisions were unworkable. Responding to this, the Government said they would ditch sections 17 and 18. Yet they remain part of the law. The amendment read:

"To move the following Clause:—
‘(1)    The Digital Economy Act 2010 is amended as follows—
(2)    Omit section 17 (Power to make provision about injunctions preventing access to locations on the internet) and section 18 (Consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny).’."

The amendment would ensure that the Government sticks to its announcement. It also echoes the sentiments expressed in the Early Day Motion number 1913, which set out concerns over the impact of website blocking on freedom of expression. 112 MPs signed up to that earlier in the year.

We asked to people to get in touch with their MPs yesterday morning to ask them to support Julian Huppert's efforts to get the amendment passed. We had a fantastic response, to which many MPs responded by offering their support. 

Ultimately the debate ran out of time on Wednesday, meaning there was no time to discuss or vote on the amendment. Here's what Julian had to say on Twitter afterwards:

"Thanks all who contacted their MP about my #deact amendment; lots of MPs talked to me about it. Sadly, we'll have no time to debate it."

This is disappointing of course. However, the good news is that the Government, in responding to Julian's suggestion, were forced to tell us their plans for dealing with blocking in the future. As ISP Review  reported, new measures on copyright infringement will be considered in the forthcoming Communications Bill Green Paper, due early next year. This will include a rethink of the website blocking provisions. Here's what the Minister James Brokenshire MP said when Julian Huppert raised the issue (down in column 87):

"The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) mentioned the Digital Economy Act 2010. He will be aware that the Government announced in August that they did not intend to commence sections 17 and 18 of the Act. There might not be time to debate his new clause, but we are now working on a wide-scale review of the communications sector with a view to publishing a Green Paper by the spring of next year, and a draft Bill by mid-2013. Policy on tackling online copyright infringement, including site-blocking, is being considered as part of that review and, given our intention to conduct that wide-ranging review, it would be premature to act now to repeal sections 17 and 18 of the Act in isolation from any other legislative changes that might be needed."

Congratulations to Julian Huppert for his continued excellent work, and to all of you who responded and called their MPs. We're keeping the heat turned up on this flawed Act.

 

Permission to appeal the Digital Economy Act Judicial Review

The proposed amendment comes a few days after the Court of Appeal ruled that BT and TalkTalk may appeal the original decision from the Digital Economy Act Judicial Review. This means further delays to the implementation of this badly compromised Act, with the appeal likely be in a couple of months.

It is unclear how exactly this will affect the timetable to which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Ofcom are working to for implementation of the Act - we are awaiting the revised, and overdue, Obligations Code in a timeframe that DCMS refer to only as 'shortly'. This Code (see the original consultation here) will bring with it details on liability for open public WiFi, internet connections in places such as cafes, and the standard of evidence required in the gathering of IP addresses as proof of infringement. It is likely to be controversial on all of these points.

Francis Davey has an overview of the grounds of this appeal over at his blog here. Well done to BT and TalkTalk for continuing their challenge. For background on the Judicial Review, you can read our earlier blogs about our involvement here and our submissions to the initial Review hearing here.

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