Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Lords force rethink of government's online piracy plans

Lords debate the Digital Economy Bill: From BBC Democracy Live

The government has been defeated in the House of Lords over measures to tackle online piracy after opponents said the plans could hamper digital innovation.

Ministers want the power to change laws on online copyright in future without the need for further legislation.

The Lords said the "blanket nature" of the clause was "objectionable".

But their chosen replacement - giving courts the right to block internet sites which are infringing copyright - has also prompted criticism.

The government argued that the new Digital Economy Bill should include the power to amend copyright law to ensure legislation could cope with more technically advanced forms of piracy in the future.

But Google and Facebook were among the firms to express "grave concerns" about the provision, saying it could allow ministers to "increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place".

'Swift recourse'

And on Wednesday, Lords voted to support a Conservative and Liberal Democrat amendment to the bill which paves the way for the clause to be scrapped.

Lib Dem spokesman Lord Clement-Jones said it would be replaced with a measure allowing courts to use injunctions to force internet service providers (ISPs) to block certain websites.

We cannot rely on the front bench of any major party to respect or understand the internet and modern technology
Pirate Party UK

He said the "more proportionate, specific and appropriate" measure, approved by 165 votes to 140, would tackle websites offering films or music illegally.

"There are several sites out there on the web, many of which are based outside the UK, which refuse to stop supplying access to illegal content - indeed whose business plan depends on supplying illegal content," Lord Clement-Jones said.

"At the moment it is not explicit what could be done about such sites.

"This site-blocking remedy would give rights holders an explicit, swift recourse to courts to block access to those sites."

He added: "I believe this is going to send a powerful message... that we do not believe in censoring the internet, but we are responding to genuine concerns from the creative industries about providing a process whereby their material can be satisfactorily accessed legally."

But the amendment has caused just as much concern in some quarters.

Search engines

The Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA'S) said it would lead to "blocking based on accusation rather than a court injunction".

It is highly unlikely that a court would order blocking of websites that adopt responsible copyright policies
Geoff Taylor, BPI

The Open Rights Group said the industry was "faced with an appalling sight" - a choice between the government's flawed stance, and that of the Lib Dems and Tories, who are "pushing an approach likely to produce straightforward threats, bans and withdrawals of sites with user generated content".

Pirate Party UK, which campaigns on the issue, said the new measure does not require offending websites to be hosting the infringing material, only that such material is "accessible at or via" the location.

Therefore, it said it could affect search engines like Google and sites like YouTube, adding: "Today's events clearly demonstrate that we cannot rely on the front bench of any major party to respect or understand the internet and modern technology."

Junior innovation minister Lord Young of Norwood Green said blocking websites was an "enormous step".

He said it would be hard to block sites offering illegal content without also blocking legitimate material, and agreed that sites linking to other sites - such as search engines - could be adversely affected.

"I don't think it would be sensible or appropriate to adopt this approach," he warned during the debate on the bill.

But Geoff Taylor, from BPI, which represents the recorded music industry, welcomed the amendment and said the ISPA's claim it could lead to "blocking based on accusation" was unfounded.

"It is highly unlikely that a court would order blocking of websites that adopt responsible copyright policies, including effective take-down procedures, so the suggestion of YouTube being shut down is just scaremongering," he added.



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SEE ALSO
Is it time to defend our rights?
02 Mar 10 |  Technology
Government tackled on wi-fi plans
01 Mar 10 |  Technology
Pirate bill could 'breach rights'
05 Feb 10 |  Technology
ISPs urge changes to digital bill
03 Dec 09 |  Technology
Web giants oppose copyright plans
02 Dec 09 |  Technology
Protests grow over digital bill
24 Nov 09 |  Technology

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