The entertainment industry has won a long-running battle in Britain as the High Court has rejected a lawsuit by major internet service providers against the UK Digital Economy Act. The ISPs had asserted that the act violated European Union laws governing privacy rights. This decision came down after two years of legal challenges and appeals by BT and TalkTalk, two of Britain’s biggest ISPs.
The Digital Economy Act was controversial from in its enactment in 2010, in large part because it required ISPs to take an active role in preventing copyright infringement. Specifically, it allows copyright holders an easy way to track down infringers: It forces ISPs, without court orders, to act on claims of infringment and against those accused. In Britain, the ISPs now must send warning letters to customers on file-share networks who the music, movie and software industries claim infringe on their copyrights. Further, the ISPs must keep a list of potential infringers; if individuals are deemed to infringe others’ works multiple times, their service may be shut off. And for those wishing to appeal an infringement claim, they first must pay a £20.00 ($31) fee.
The High Court rejected the ISPs pleas in its March 6 decision and ordered them to begin working with rights holders to put in force the Digital Economy Act. While the music and movie industry hailed this decision, there are doubts whether this law makes for good public policy. As a recent TorrentFreak article points out, Britain’s digital act was based on incomplete and biased data, information advocates say was provided by a slice of entertainment trade groups. An advocate for the UK Pirate Party also argues the proof is lacking that the digital act’s draconian steps — such as cutting off ISP users — aids in the battle against illegal file-sharing.
The act has other liabilities, including a lack of clarity regarding publicly available wi-fi. If a user illegally downloads music or movies, are wi-fi providers liable? The digital act suggests they may be at risk, penalizing them for users’ piracy and forcing the burden of proof onto them in defending against accusations of infringement.
Even as service providers, the entertainment industry, activists for access to online technology and copyright holders seek to grasp the full implications of the High Court ruling, this legal battle isn’t over — yet. BT and TalkTalk are expected to appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court. The big ISPs also likely will step up lobbying efforts against the digital act, as their industry cousins and other activists waged their successful battles in the U.S. against ACTA and SOPA.