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Web blocking powers return

Digital Economy Bill gets another do-over

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Mandybill The government has been circulating revised web-blocking powers for the Digital Economy Bill with industry and activist groups, and The Register has seen a draft. This version is believed to have won the backing of the Tories, and could end up in a Second Reading.

The revised Clause 18 we've seen is a hybrid of the earlier Clause 17 (which was defeated) and its successor, the Tory/Lib-Dem Clause 18 (which was withdrawn). Ben Bradshaw's latest draft gives the Secretary of State the power to allow Courts to grant injunctions against service providers compelling them to block "internet locations" - but only after a Parliamentary vote, and with a lot of conditions to be met.

These may not satisfy the rights holders, as it limits the scope of a possible injunction to one or two circumstances. The original BPI proposal, which you first read about here in January, looked a lot more like the US-style DMCA, which places the presumption of guilt on the service provider, and can result in large chunks of the internet disappearing based on one simple form. (See Record labels seek DMCA-style UK takedowns). And of course, it's hugely uncertain whether the revised Clause will survive Wash Up.

Music business sources tell us that the most important part of the bill remains the technical measures against serial file sharers, introducing some element of risk to downloading, which today is largely risk-free. They'd like to see something in what's called the 'Rapidshare' clause, but it's not the clincher.

What's in the new Clause

Under the new Clause 18, the Minister of the day and Courts would have to satisfy a long list of qualifications. The former would be obliged to consult widely during a 60-day consultation period, and then throw the proposals open to Parliamentary debate and scrutiny, and finally a vote.

The injunctions would only apply to sites where most of the material was infringing, and the court would have to consider steps taken to remove infringing material, the impact on "Freedom of expression", and the proportion of the effect of the block on the business or individual. Courts couldn't order costs against the service provider, while copyright holders would also have to demonstrate that they'd provided lawful access to the material that's the subject of their infringement complaint.

Hollywood and the record companies are unlikely to be happy with that - since the hottest torrents at any time are frequently pre-release films or albums. And these, by definition, haven't yet been lawfully released.

(And that's the problem with such laws: regulations sprout clauses and subclauses and qualifications and breed exponentially.)

The get-outs cover innocent or accidental infringers, publishers and the news media, and even sites like YouTube, since owner Google takes steps to remove infringing material, after a fashion.

The draft was circulated to various parties earlier this week, including the Open Rights Group, but it declined to share this exciting new development with its supporters. So we're publishing the full draft clause overleaf.

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