The DEA: good for lawyers, bad for everyone else?

Did you know that the Digital Economy Act 2010 was enacted last month? If so, do you know how it affects you? The title makes it sound like a very dry topic, but in fact anyone who lives in the UK should be interested because it affects any UK creator, distributor or consumer of content on the web. On Wednesday 1st June, John Stobart of Harvey Ingram LLP gave an overview of the Act in an excellent presentation, “Legal Aspects of Online Business and the Digital Economy Act 2010”. The talk was hosted by Amplified Leicester at the Phoenix Square Digital Media Centre, Leicester.

Following the noble aims of the Digital Britain report, which mapped our existing use of the Internet as well as ways of enabling more Britons to access online content, it has of course become necessary to legislate how we do this. Most people are aware of the struggle of the film, music and publishing industries to maintain profitability when so much content is available for free or at very low cost on the web. It seems that fewer people are also aware that much of what is available is offered without the permission or sanction of the copyright owners. The ease and speed with which one can download content leads people to think that it must always be okay to do so.

But the scary thing is that even those who scrupulously avoid piracy may fall foul of the new Act. It could affect you negatively, even if you personally have not done anything illegal. This is because of draconian provisions requiring ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to write threatening letters to the owners of connections being used for illegal downloading, to provide to copyright holders the contact details of those people, and ultimately to limit bandwidth or cut internet connection completely if the copyright infringement is proven to have occurred.

No provision is made for the possibility that the owner might not have committed or even know about the infringement, or for the many innocent people potentially affected by such a cut-off, for example in a family where a teenager illegally downloads music or films and less tech-savvy parents are unaware of this, or where remote hackers simply make use of inadequately secured wifi access points from neighbouring houses. The Act in its current form also begs the question of how these punishments will prevent the large-scale piracy of professionals who have the expertise and flexibility to change methods rapidly to keep ahead of the law.

This poorly-thought-out legislation was rushed through parliament by Labour without proper debate, so it is now law, and although the Lib Dems claimed at their recent special conference that they would seek to repeal some of its measures, they have not so far taken any steps to do so. However, you may still be able to influence some aspects of its implementation via the current Ofcom consultation on how “to give effect to measures introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2010 (“DEA”) aimed at reducing online copyright infringement. Specifically (they) are seeking views on a code of practice called “the Online Copyright Infringement Initial Obligations Code”. This consultation period ends on Friday 30th July.

John Stobart pointed out that, from a legal point of view, this legislation should lead to a lot of “interesting” cases, but while this is good news for lawyers, it is less so for those who may have to pay their fees! But it’s good to know that people like John are on top of this game. If you have an online copyright issue, contact him at www.harveyingram.com.

For general information apart from the Act itself, the Wikipedia entry is a starting point with its selection of links to external sources.

(This post was first published on http://www.get-it-write.com and is adapted and republished here with the permission of the author.)


Liam Wall
Founder
BigWig Legal Network
www.bigwignetwork.co.uk

What is BigWig Legal Network?
The deregulation of UK legal structures will have a huge impact on how Law is practised and new legal services are offered. BigWig Legal Network is the UK’s first membership development organisation for fee earners in legal practices, priced for membership affordability, which will offer what legal professionals desire most of all: Accurate, dependable new insights and techniques for developing the legal services of the future.

Find out more at our Last Wednesday meetings.

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