David Blackburn

Moving slowly towards the future

Moving slowly towards the future
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Yesterday’s leak of Vince Cable’s response to the Hargreaves report into the Digital Economy Act (DEA) set tongues wagging. The headline was as expected: ‘web-blocking’, the practice whereby copyright infringers are barred from internet access, will be dropped because it is unworkable. In line with Hargreaves’ recommendations, Cable also plans to remove restrictions on using copyright material to create parodies, which is excellent news for Downfall enthusiasts. And he will rationalise copyright law to legalise supposedly forbidden practices like copying CDs onto an i-Pod. Finally, Cable has permitted an exception from copyright for data mining for research purposes. The Business Department and the Treasury believe that these reforms will net the economy an extra £8bn a year.

Cable’s speech is part of the DEA's ‘reboot’, designed to enable it to come into force. But there are still substantial impediments to traverse. A dispute in the Court of Appeal about who will pay to police whatever system finally emerges (service providers and/or copyright holders) is to be fought this autumn; and the subsequent decision may then be referred to the Supreme Court or Strasbourg. Also, the new code of obligations for internet providers is currently before the European Commission; and the Commission is likely to deliberate for months more yet. In light of these encumbrances, those privy to discussion in government reckon that the Act will not be implemented until at least the end of 2012, which is extraordinary given that Royal assent was granted at the end of the last parliament.  

Then there is the question of what will replace web-blocking as the means to tackle internet piracy. At the moment, intrusive and probably unfeasible schemes like internet disconnection remain on the table; but there are reasons to think these may be dropped. Ed Vaizey has led a campaign that insists the government should not be closely involved in regulating the internet. He has championed a system policed by service providers, copyright holders and internet users, where serial infringement would be pursued in the civil courts. I’m told that this will influence official policy in time, but total agreement between the parties remains elusive. Further discussions on these matters will take place in September.

All in all, it looks increasingly certain to be a long, hard slog, which is ironic given the context of instant communication.