Digital Economy Act delayed until 2014


Copyright owners have again been made to wait for new UK anti-piracy legislation, the Digital Economy Act, which will not be implemented until 2014 at the earliest.

It will force Internet service providers (ISPs) to send warning letters to individuals who, rights owners believe, have illegally downloaded their content. For persistent offenders, ISPs will have to terminate their Internet connections.

British ISPs BT and TalkTalk mounted a two-year legal challenge to the act—approved in 2010—arguing it was incompatible with EU law.

But the Court of Appeal rejected their arguments against having to notify suspected pirates, although it backed their view that costs arising from appeals should be considered as administrative charges.

As a result, the cost-sharing statutory instrument in the act must be amended. In turn, Ofcom, the body regulating the broadcasting and telecoms industries, must alter its own code. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it expects ISPs to begin sending out the first warning letters in early 2014.

Adam Rendle, associate at Taylor Wessing LLP in London, said the delay puts the UK further behind countries such as France in terms of the level of protection the law gives to rights owners. “It further delays an important additional remedy for rights owners,” he said.

In France, a government body called Hadopi monitors the sharing of copyrighted material on peer-to-peer networks and operates a controversial three-strike warning system for alleged Internet pirates. Individuals who are sent three warnings but continue to download illegally can have their Internet connections cut off for up to a month or can be fined €1,500 (£1,300).

In Spain, the government passed the Sinde Law earlier this year. It created a new body that copyright owners can report to if they suspect illegal downloading. The body, called the Commission for Intellectual Property, has the power to recommend that a judge forces an ISP to block access to a particular website. The process could take as little as 10 days.

Despite the delay in the UK, Rendle said British rights owners will continue to put pressure on ISPs to restrict illegal downloading by blocking access to websites. “Practically and legally, it could be the most effective route,” he said.

He added that copyright owners may resort to other, more legally untested strategies for deterring piracy. One would be to target cyberlockers—file-hosting websites—and another to notify advertisers, who may be encouraged to withdraw their business from pirated websites. Advertising revenue can act as a valuable source of income for website operators.

This article was first published on 14 June 2012 in World IP Review

Digital Economy Act, ISPs, online piracy, Ofcom

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