For the past few months the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) has been quietly making its way through the House of Lords. As is the way of these things, large numbers of amendments have been proposed, their lordships have had a series of mini-debates on each set of issues, and the Government have been busily amending the Bill in an attempt to fix all the things that they didn’t think through properly.
The main thrust of the DEB’s approach to dealing with unlawful file sharing of copyright material has been a “three strikes” policy. That is, should you be detected to be sharing some popular beat combo’s music without permission, then on the first two occasions you’d receive an admonishing letter, and on the third time then you would be subject to “technical measures” (ie: very slow Internet speeds) or disconnection, the latter doubtless annoying the rest of your family as they would be unable to visit DirectGov / keep up their social life / catch-up TV shows / do their homework / avoid being sacked from their work-from-home job!
However, the Government are concerned that this won’t be enough, and that unlawful sharing of copyright material might occur in new ways in future. So in clause 17 of the DEB they set out a scheme for amendment (in ways that would be decided as future circumstances required) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 through secondary legislation.
It is unusual to grant such open ended powers to amend primary legislation, because Parliament would be presented with an unamendable statutory instrument and invited to vote for it — no such SI has been defeated in the House of Lords since 2000, and the time before that was in 1968.
There was an outcry over the breadth of clause 17, and so the Government set out amendments to restrict it — but last week peers voted for an opposition amendment (120A) to have an alternative arrangement altogether, a regime of High Court injunctions that would force ISPs to block websites.
This is such a dumb (and dangerous) idea that it has all the characteristics of a wrecking amendment, added to the Bill just to eat up parliamentary time so that the whole Bill will fall at the dissolution for the upcoming election.