Digital Economy Bill: Lords Want To Stamp Out Piracy Chasers

Members of the House of Lords recently voiced concerns over the UK government's Digital Economy Bill, stating that the problems facing the entertainment industry are largely of their own creation. There was also criticism of companies who demand cash from file-sharers in the UK, and ideas were put forward to end their scheme.

Last week it was reported that Lord Lucas had criticized elements of Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill, noting that many problems being faced by the entertainment industries are of their own making.

“The industry has been extremely slow to listen to the demands of its customers, and has had something of an abusive relationship with them, seeking to punish them before thinking of how to serve them better,” he noted.

Lucas went on to say that it took the industry a decade to produce sensible alternatives to illicit file-sharing and cast doubt on their ability to identify infringers from an IP address alone.

However, hidden away in the text of the 2nd reading of the Digital Economy Bill were some encouraging signs that the government will have to take notice of the companies generating profit from alleged file-sharing (by sending threatening ‘pay up or else’ letters), under the guise of protecting the ‘creativity’ of the porn industry.

“We have to be careful too about the industry cloaking itself in the finery of the small, creative individual,” said Lucas. “We are not talking about the small, creative individual here, but about powerful, monopolistic industries and giving them power over citizens. We must be careful of that.”

Although he didn’t mention them by name, there can be little doubt Lord Lucas was referring to UK lawyers ACS:Law (and previously Davenport Lyons) and their German partners, Digiprotect.

“Pornography is widely used on the internet and is one of the most assiduous industries when it comes to pursuing people for supposed non-payment for illegal downloads et cetera. We have to face it that we will be putting a lot of people into the hands of pornographers and their lawyers if we are not careful about the way we draft the Bill,” he said.

As we pointed out in a previous article, the proposals being put forward in the Digital Economy Bill do not trump the old copyright system, meaning that if rights holders (Digiprotect) and lawyers (ACS:Law) wish to continue with their campaigns of sending letters and demanding huge sums of money instead, they will be perfectly entitled to do so.

But not if Lord Lucas has his way.

“Secondly, it should be compulsory for copyright holders to go through the mechanism we are putting in place. It is not acceptable that we are putting in place a mechanism for them to deal with peer-to-peer file-sharing and for them still to go immediately to lawyers and harass people as the pornography industry does already. The briefing that noble Lords will have seen from Which? describes the consequences well. We should take the opportunity of this Bill to stamp that out,” he said.

Noting that claims from porn rights holders have often been made against innocent people, Lord Clement-Jones also said that provisions should be made to bring the scheme to an end.

“Of late, we have seen a proliferation of lawyers’ letters, acting for the pornography industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, often against innocent people asserting copyright claims and threatening court action,” he said.

“Which? and others are right to raise these cases, but I hope that the provisions of the new code will obviate the need for this heavy-handed type of action.”

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