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High Court To Review UK Digital Economy Act

by Robin Pilgrim,, London

17 November 2010

Two of the UK's largest internet service providers (ISPs) have succeeded in obtaining a judicial review of the controversial Digital Economy Act, which contains provisions designed to crack down on copyright theft over the internet.

The High Court has ordered a judicial review of the legislation after accepting an appeal lodged by BT and TalkTalk last July, in which they argue that the Act received insufficient parliamentary scrutiny when it was rushed into law shortly before May's general election.

In particular, the companies share a concern that obligations imposed by the Act may not be compatible with European rules that are designed to ensure that national laws are proportionate, protect users’ privacy, restrict the role of ISPs in policing the internet and maintain a single market.

The two companies are worried that if clarity is not gained then they, and other industry players, may end up investing tens of millions of pounds in new systems and processes only to find later that the Act is unenforceable and the money wasted.

“We are very pleased that the Court has recognized that our concerns about the copyright infringement provisions in the Digital Economy Act should be considered in a full hearing." said TalkTalk in a statement.

"The Act was rushed through Parliament in the ‘wash-up’ with only 6% of MPs attending the brief debate and has very serious flaws. The provisions to try to reduce illegal filesharing are unfair, won’t work and will potentially result in millions of innocent customers who have broken no law suffering and having their privacy invaded. We look forward to the hearing to properly assess whether the Act is legal and justifiable and so ensure that all parties have certainty on the law before proceeding."

The Digital Economy Act grants the government a power to impose so-called "technical obligations” on ISPs which would require them to take measures to limit internet access to subscribers found to have breached copyright. These measures include bandwidth capping and the temporary suspension of broadband connections.

Despite the recent change in administration, the present government continues to believe that Act contains appropriate safeguards and is consistent with EU law.

ISPs, however, argue that they are merely 'conduits' for traffic over the internet and are not directly responsible for the content downloaded by their subscribers. TalkTalk is also protesting against the legislation's potential to violate its customers' privacy and the company has said that it will not disconnect any of its subscribers unless ordered to do so by a judge.

TAGS: law | copyright | internet | legislation

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