ISPs Start Court Action Over Legality Of DEA

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain’s startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

BT and TalkTalk have begun to frame their arguments in a court bid to overturn the Digital Economy Act

A legal challenge to the Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010 has been launched by TalkTalk and BT in court today. The two ISPs are jointly arguing that the regulations are “seriously flawed” and “incompatible” with European law.

The Act requires ISPs to impose a  series of sanctions on illegal-file-sharers. The escalating procedure begins with a warning letter and culminates in a slowing down of the connection speed of persistent offenders or the temporary suspension of their connections.

Higher Costs Passed On To Consumers

Antony White, the QC acting for the ISPs, said these measures would “impact the privacy and free expression rights of customers”. If the challenge is successful, it will overturn what is seen by most ISPs as a hastily and imperfectly drafted law which was rushed through at the end of the Labour government’s term of office.

Despite these criticisms, the new coalition government’s business secretary Vince Cable will claim that the DEA complies with European law and contains sufficient safeguards to protect the rights of both the ISP and the consumer.

In his opening speech, White admitted that  the freedom of expression allowed by Internet access can lead to copyright infringement through illegal practices. However, he argued that the DEA requires ISPs to act when infringement is merely suspected and that actual law breaking would be difficult to prove. This would lead to higher costs for the ISPs which would be passed on to consumers – contrary to the aims of the Act.

“The Government brought forward these measures, and Parliament enacted them, anticipating they would result in benefits to copyright owners and the economy,” he said.

The hearing continues and could result in alterations or delays to the Act, which now may not be enforced until next year.