Digital economy bill: A quick guide

The controversial Digital Economy Bill may have had a few parts stripped out, it may even be a damp squib. But the remaining, 76-page bill is still a wide-ranging piece of media and technology reform.

Confused? Read our clause-by-clause guide to the bill as it stands now after being adopted by the House Of Commons and as it awaits Royal Assent …

#1: Widen Ofcom’s scope from TV and radio to all “media services”, promoting investment in networks and public service content. Withdrawn by govt.

#2: Ofcom must produce reports on the state of network infrastructure and internet domain name registration.

#3: In those reports, Ofcom must also report on how TV, radio, on-demand and other editorialised websites contribute to public service objectives.

Illegal downloads

#4: After apparent copyright abuse, copyright holders can send a “copyright infringement report” to ISPs with evidence of the downloading, within one month of the alleged incident. The ISP must notify its subscriber within a month, providing evidence and information about appeals and legal advice.

#5: ISPs, if requested, must provide copyright holders with a “copyright infringement list”, listing each infringement by an individual, anonymised user.

#6: Sets out conditions for approval of “initial obligations” code under which Ofcom can deliver the above two copyright clauses.

#7: If no such code exists, Ofcom can make its own.

#8: Populates the content of the “initial obligations” code, which would see that ISPs must not notify subscribers of alleged infringements more than a year old.

#9: Ofcom must report, every three and 12 months, on the extent of online copyright infringement, whether copyright owners are making content legally available, how the education drive is progressing and the volume of “copyright infringement reports”.

#10: The govt. can tell Ofcom whether it should order ISPs to sanction speed blocks, bandwidth shaping, site blocking, account suspension or other limits against an ISP customer. First, Ofcom must do consultation and consider whether these measures would work.

#11: If the measures pass Ofcom’s muster, the govt. can then level the measures against ISPs, but only if approved by both houses of parliament.

#12: Ofcom must make its own code regulating how these measures can be sanctioned …

#13: The code must cover enforcement procedures, subscriber appeals, costs are taken care of and that Ofcom would arbitrate owner-ISP disputes.

#14: Subscribers can appeal to an independent personnamed in Ofcom’s code and, later, to a first-tier tribunal. Costs would be met by the ISP, copyright holder and subscriber.

#15: ISPs that fail to apply technical measures against subscribers can be fined up to £250,000, as Ofcom determines.

#16: Copyright owners must pay Ofcom’s costs; both copyright owners and ISPs must pay costs of implementing technical measures; accused subscribers must also share appeal costs.

#17: Defines terms.


High Court can grant
injunction forcing ISPs to block access to “online locations” if a “substantial portion” of that location infringes copyright. ISPs must pay copyright owners’ court fees unless in “exceptional circumstances”.
Withdrawn by govt.will accomplish by other parliamentary means

Domain names

#19: The govt can notify domain name registry if it thinks they are seriously failing, after reading Ofcom’s report (#2).

#20: The govt can install its own manager at a failing domain name registry.

#21: The govt can apply for a court order altering the constitution of failing domain name registry.

Channel 4

#22: Adds film production and distribution to Channel 4’s remit.C4 must support people “making innovative content” (ie. 4iP?) and must produce news and content for children and teens.

#23: Channel 4 must produce an annual report stating its goals and monitoring its performance. Ofcom must also review C4 and can bring sanctions if it fails.

Commercial TV

#24: Allows for single franchise areas for both Scotland and England.

#25: Sets December 2014 expiry date for Channel 3 and Channel 5 public teletext license terms

#26: Provides for expiry of those licenses themselves.

#27: Ofcom must report on the public teletext licenses and “whether (they) can be provided at a cost to the licence holder that is commercially sustainable”, but it “must take account of alternative uses for the capacity that would be available if the public teletext service were not provided”.

#28: Can remove public teletext services from Ofcom oversight.

Regional TV news


Allows Ofcom to appoint news providers in a Channel 3 franchise area, and pay them (ie. IFNCs). But Ofcom must notify current franchise owners (ITV) and heed what they say.
Withdrawn by govt, throwing IFNC plan in to doubt.

#30: Removes Gaelic programming regulation from Ofcom’s auspice.

Radio spectrum

#31: The govt. can specify digital switchover dates.

#32: Ofcom can renew national radio licenses at seven-year terms.

#33: Governs how Ofcom can vary local digital radio licenses.

#34: Sets out how Ofcom can vary local radio licenses after they have been renewed.

#35: Defines areas in which local radio programming must be made.

#36: Ofcom can decide whether to vary national digital radio multiplex license areas and analogue frequency areas if applied to by the license holder.

#37: The govt. allows Ofcom to decide on national digital radio multiplex license renewal.

#38: Generally allows the govt. to include or exclude new measures for broadcast regulation regimes.

#39: Sets out how spectrum holders must pay for the license.

#40: Sets out how Ofcom can penalise license holders which breach their terms.

Video games

#41: Extends game regulation under Video Recordings Act 1984 to games that include violence to humans or animals, encouragement of criminality, drug use, encouragement of alcohol or tobacco use, sexual messages, swearing, offence.

#42: But allows for video game regulatory responsibility to be separate from video works.

Intellectual property

#43: Would
allow copyrighted works to be re-used if author can’t be found (orphan works).
Withdrawn by govt.

#44: Raises maximum penalty for criminally making copyright-infringing works to £50,000.

#45: Absolves libraries of copyright infringement if they lend out non-traditional “books”, ie e-books and audiobooks.