Three Reasons It’s Back To Square One For UK’s Digital Copyright Strategy

Three Wednesday announcements mean the UK’s approach to digital copyright infringement may be majorly halted and started over, despite months of wrangling over controversial legislation.

1) ISPs BT (NYSE: BT) and TalkTalk have been granted a judicial review of the Digital Economy Act, which was passed by the last, Labour government in April to digital rights’ lobbyists chagrin.

2) The new government launched a review of how intellectual property law should change to better encourage innovation.

3) A parliamentary committee which scrutinises the government’s media and culture legislation launched its own inquiry in to protecting IP rights online, apparently intending to unpick the Act itself.

It’s a confluence that, after a bitter couple of years industry debate, is likely to throw everything back in the air again. Following election in May, new culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told paidContent:UK he would not repeal the Digital Economy Act, which would have compelled ISPs to hamper the most flagrant abusers’ connections. But the new government now has an opportunity to put its own imprimatur on proceedings.

Though the entertainment industries had lobbied hard for graduated-response provisions, many others were unhappy with both the content of the Act and the limited time available for discussing it prior to parliament’s pre-election dissolution in April. But now a reboot may be in the offing – there are already signs of tinkering ahead, with an implicit belief that the Act’s provisions are insufficient…

— The review announced by the government’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills is to examine “how the intellectual property system can better drive growth and innovation”, including how rightsholder frameworks create “barriers to new internet-based business models“. The previous government had commissioned its last IP review, from FT editor Andrew Gowers, in 2005.

— And the parallel inquiry “into the protection of intellectual property rights online” by the media, culture and sport committee – which is led by a Conservative chair – seems designed to critically unravel the Act during its first full parliamentary scrutiny hearings.

The committee is promising to “consider” the online IP rights framework contained in the Act “and the extent to which it is a reasonable and sufficient response to the challenges facing creative industries and individuals in digital markets”. The committee will consider the Act’s “practicality and likely effectiveness“, whether it is fair, associated costs, any additional measures and, “more broadly, the scope for additional activity and new approaches to ensure that original work is appropriately rewarded in the online environment”.

Indeed, if terms of reference like that don’t suggest the committee has already made up its mind, then it may not take much further persuasion – the committee will also consider the government’s own IP review, which is being led by former BBC, FT and Independent executive Ian Hargreaves.

Media regulator Ofcom had been in the middle of figuring out the practicalities of implementing the Act. But entertainment industries and consumers will each now get further, drawn-out opportunities, in feeding consultation to the new reviews, to reprise the ideological slanging match in which they engaged over the last two years prior to the Act’s passing.

» Need a Digital Economy Act refresher? Check our Quick Guide To All 45 Measures.