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More on the Digital Economy Bill

Posted by James Hammerton @ 10:32 pm on 24 November, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Further to my earlier article about the Digital Economy Bill, I shall now consider the disconnection scheme set out in sections 4 to 14 (which amend the Communications Act 2003) in more detail:

  • Section 4 requires internet service providers to notify subscribers of reported infringements of copyright where the copyright owner has provided an IP-address and a time for the alleged infringement. (The copyright owner isn’t necessarily told who the subscriber is at this point.) “Notification” is deemed to have occurred if the ISP has sent an email to the email address they have for the subscriber or sent a letter to the postal address they have.
  • Section 5 requires an ISP to send information to copyright owners indicating which of the owners’ infringement reports relate to which subscriber.
  • Sections 6 to 9 set out the details of how the “initial obligations” codes (sections 4 and 5 operate under these codes, i.e. an ISP must be subject to such a code for section 4 and 5 to apply), will operate.
  • Section 10 sets out how the Secretary of State must go about assessing whether to require an ISP to limit or suspend the internet access of particular subscribers.
  • Section 11 allows the Secretary of State to impose obligations on an ISP to limit or suspend some subscribers’ internet access.
  • Sections 12 and 13 set out how codes relating to the obligations to limit internet access are drawn up.
  • Section 14 allows the Secretary of State to impose a fine of upto £250K on ISPs that contravene obligations to inform subscribers or limit their access.

There are several points to note about this:

  • The copyright owner need not provide evidence of the infringement, merely the IP address and the time at which it happened. That’s all that’s required for the ISP to be obliged to send notifications to a subscriber.
  • Copyright owners can make such reports to ISPs if it appears to them that the subscriber to an internet access service has infringed copyright or if the subscriber allowed such infringement to occur. This may have implications for internet cafes, people providing anonymous access to the internet and anyone who provides public access to wi-fi, since they may be deemed to be “allowing” copyright infringement.
  • There seems to be no allowance for the possibility that someone’s machine has been compromised and used for copyright infringement, or for the fact that IP addresses don’t always indicate which machine downloaded a particular file.
  • The sending of notifications and the limiting of access can all occur without taking someone to court. The Secretary of State decides whether or not subscribers’ internet access should be limited, after a period where warnings have been sent. This opens the door to politically motivated decisions.

Further reading:

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