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UK Parliament Introduces Digital Economy Bill, Maps Out Graduated-Response Regime

The United Kingdom Parliament has introduced the UK Digital Economy Bill, which proposes wide-scale changes to a number of British laws including copyright, domain names, digital radio and television, and wireless spectrum laws. If passed, the bill will implement a number of recommendations from the Digital Britain panel, a task force that had been charged with ensuring that the UK is at the leading edge of the global digital economy.

The bill would amend the Communications Act, 2003 to require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to pass on notices of copyright infringement received from rights holder organizations to the ISPs’ Internet subscribers. ISPs must also record the number of notices that have been forwarded to each of their subscribers, and compile a list (on an anonymous basis) of subscribers who have been notified more than once. The bill provides an avenue for copyright owners to petition a court to obtain the identity of repeat infringers in order to pursue legal remedies.

The bill would also grant the UK Secretary of State the power to impose further technical obligations on ISPs should the notice-and-notice regime fail to achieve Digital Britain’s stated goal of reducing online piracy by 70-80 per cent. The technical obligations that ISPs may be compelled to impose against serious repeat infringers could include bandwidth capping, content filtering, or temporary suspension of broadband connections for the most egregious offenders.

The bill would also bring many other reforms to the digital, information and communication sectors, including providing the British telecommunications regulatory agency (OFCOM) with powers to make changes to the UK radio licensing scheme and to assist the move to digital radio. The agency would also be mandated with promoting investment in public service content on British television. Finally, the bill would update British domain name distribution laws and impose age classification ratings on video games.

The bill recently received a second reading and is currently in committee stage.

McCarthy Tétrault Notes:

The UK is just the latest country to introduce legal reforms seeking to reduce online piracy by engaging ISPs and other online intermediaries. Similar laws that require ISPs to implement graduated sanctions against copyright infringers have already been passed in South Korea, France and Taiwan. Other governments, most recently in Italy and New Zealand, have also shown an interest in this type of legislation. In light of the movement towards an increased engagement of ISPs in the fight against Internet piracy, it will be interesting to see if this recent trend in international copyright reform is replicated here in Canada with our own copyright reform bill, which is expected to be introduced in the next few months.