The Digital Economy Bill has created yet another storm of protest after the proposed legislation gained a further controversial amendment in the House of Lords this week.
Amendment 120A would give copyright holders the power to pressure internet service providers (ISPs) into restricting certain web sites. If the ISP fails to cut off the internet access, the copyright holder can apply to the courts to force the ISP to comply. The ISP would then be liable for legal costs.
The amendment has been proposed to replace the already contentious Clause 17, which is supported by the Labour Party and would give future ministers the power to introduce new rules without going through the parliamentary process.
Protestors against the clause include Google, Facebook and Yahoo, all of which argue that the powers could be used to introduce additional technical measures to monitor the internet, which would impose unnecessary costs for ISPs and discourage innovation on the web.
However, the amendment now replacing Clause 17, put forward by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, is likely to cause even more of an outcry. The restriction of web sites by ISPs has more draconian implications than the removal of parliamentary restrictions from future ministers, according to detractors.
The amendment had already been rejected last summer when the Digital Economy Bill was first being consulted on. Digital rights groups, ISPs and even Liberal Democrat supporters are now protesting against the changes. Only lawyers have given their support to the amendment, believing it to be safer to hand more power to the courts than government ministers.
Jim Killock, executive director at the Open Rights Group, said that the amendment would give copyright holding companies too much power.
"Individuals and small businesses would be open to massive 'copyright attacks' that could shut them down, just by the threat of action," he said.
"The Liberal Democrats have tried to find an alternative to Clause 17, but its proposals are even more damaging. People will be able to send threatening letters to ISPs telling them to block a service, and if they don't comply they will be taken court.
"This will result in ISPs blocking services that may be completely legal. Music companies could take sites like Pirate Bay to court, and they could even make arguments to take legal action against sites like YouTube or RapidService.
"Because no-one has been consulted on this amendment or thought it through, it could be extremely damaging. It is certainly not the way to draft laws. The problem now is that Clause 17 is a really bad approach and now we have another. The Liberal Democrats have got us out of the frying pan and into the fire."
The amendment was put forward by the Conservative Lord Greville Howard and the Liberal Democrat Lord Tim Clement-Jones.
However, because the Liberal Democrats drafted the amendment before the Conservative Party voiced its support, the wrath from protestors appears to be falling on the former more than the latter.
Lord Clement-Jones has responded to criticism of the amendment in a post on his party's own web site, the Liberal Democrat Voice. However, the post has generated negative comments, showing that the policy does not even have the support of many Liberal Democrats.
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