Digital Economy Bill Gives Mandelson New Powers

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

The Digital Economy Bill, published today, gets tough on file-sharing, and allows Lord Mandelson to amend the copyright act in future

The UK government will give internet service providers (ISPs) a duty to cut off illegal file-sharers, in the much-heralded Digital Economy Bill, which also gives Lord Mandelson the power to alter copyright law.

When passed into law, the bill, which was announced in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, will oblige ISPs to go through a rigorous procedure with any customer suspected of persistently downloading copyright material, which can include temporarily cutting them off the net.

The bill, announced by Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms today, and published by the Departments of Business and the Department of Culture Media and Sport, fleshes out plans announced by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson in October. Anyone downloading copyright material intending to resell it could face a £50,000 fine, and ISPs failing to act against any offenders amongst their customers, could be fined £250,000.

ISPs will have to send notifications to suspected copyright infringers, and will be required to share information about these notifications with the copyright holders affected, so record companies or movie owners can potentially apply fo a court order against the downloader.

The file-sharing measures follow lengthy argument and criticism, notably from ISPs BT and TalkTalk. In particular, TalkTalk said the plans are unworkable before the bill was published and threatened to challenge it – but has not yet made a formal response to the bill.

At the launch conference, however, Stephen Timms claimed that 99 percent of ISPs are “broadly supportive” of the measure, according to reports at ZDNet and elsewhere.


The Bill also gives Lord Mandelson the power to amend the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, “for the purpose of preventing or reducing online copyright infringement.” The move is required, so new methods of viewing and transmitting copyright material can be handled, officials explained. These powers will be handled by “statutory instrument”, so cannot be blocked by MPs or the Lords, according to the Register.

As the Queen’s Speech made clear on Wednesday, the £6-a-year broadband levy designed to fund next-generation broadband was not in the Digital Economy bill. This will wait till a finance bill in early 2010.