January 22, 2010 | Jim Killock

Lords show Digital Economy Bill's deficiencies

Many of you will have been following ORG’s updates on Twitter through the Digital Economy debates; we’ve been attending the debates, as well as working hard to make sure as many of you as possible are able to respond yourself.

Behind the scenes, ORG has helped Lords with advice on the Bill’s weaknesses, and has been very pleased to see many of our concerns being debated on the floor of the House as a result of our and others’ efforts.

Lords Whitty, Errol, Lucas, Razzal and Clement Jones have made very serious points, often supported by Howard of Rising and De Maulay for the Conservative front bench.

For instance, the nature of the tribunals, the likely routes of appeal, the defences available to those accused; all of these remain unclear and not placed in Bill. The simple identification of an account holder, on whose network infringement has taken place, and an actual infringer, has been shown to be weak and problematic.

The Lords have made it clear that this is likely to unwarranted liabilities for educational institutions and wifi network operators. The Federation of Small Businesses has made the same point to the Lords as well.

Meanwhile, the government front bench has attempted to deflect many of the points being made, often by stating that the problems they identify will be dealt with in future Statutory Instruments.

This is not an acceptable approach. This abdicates democratic scrutiny and places wide powers in the hands of future executives.

The issue of costs, for instance, is to be placed in the SIs. Yet it is clear that there is every reason to worry that innocent ISP customers may end up paying large sums for these enforcement measures.

The Lords also raised the fundamental issue that there is no obligation to ensure that wider access to copyright works is created, and that the online market in rights is functioning. Yet this is the supposed aim of the legislation. ORG among others has shown repeatedly that this market is dysfunctional and exhibits signs of abuse by rights holders. The Lords from the Liberal and Conservative front benches asked that these questions be looked at – a move that ORG would welcome.

The critical moment for the Lords is in the run up to the Report stage. ORG will be working to help the Lords in whatever way we can to resolve some of these key issues as best as possible.

In the meantime, here’s looking forward to meeting those of you who are joining us over the weekend for our training days!