Digital Economy Act's anti-piracy measures are delayed

Man listening to music The Digital Economy Act seeks to curb rising rates of online piracy

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The controversial piracy law, the Digital Economy Act, has again been delayed, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed.

The measures, such as letters to suspected illegal downloaders and potential disconnection, will not be enforced until at least 2014.

Since being passed at the end of the Labour administration in 2010, action has stalled due to legal challenges.

The delay was welcomed by the Internet Service Providers' Association (Ispa).

Under the Act, letters sent out to apparent illegal file-sharers would offer advice on how to prevent such illegal activity.

Serious repeat offenders risk facing measures that limit, or even cut off, internet connection.

ISPs have criticised aspects of the Act, suggesting it would unfairly force them to police user behaviour on the internet.

'Effective solution'

"The fact it hasn't been implemented is a good thing," an Ispa spokesman said.

For many years, the music, movie and television industries lobbied the government for protection against online piracy, while the internet service providers told politicians they could not be expected to police their customers.

When the Digital Economy Act was rushed through Parliament in the dying days of the Labour government, it appeared to be a great victory for the media industries.

But the ISPs fought back, and although their legal challenges largely failed, they resulted in this long delay in implementing the law.

Four years is a very long time in the fast-changing world of digital content. By the time the process of sending letters to suspected illegal file-sharers begins in 2014, the whole landscape may have been transformed.

The media firms may then find the Act is not as powerful a weapon against piracy as they had hoped.

"We don't think it's a particularly good piece of legislation."

However, he added that there were other measures being discussed which could see a clampdown on piracy.

"There's more than just the Digital Economy Act when it comes to tackling copyright infringement online," he said.

"Ispa continues to believe that the most effective solution to the problem of users accessing unlawful content is for reform of the licensing framework so that legal content can be distributed online in a way that consumers are demanding."

Last month, BT and TalkTalk lost a two-year legal bid to have the Act overturned. They argued it was incompatible with European law.

'Misconceived review'

The repeated delays have led some industry observers to speculate that the Act's measures will never come into force.

"I think I might be waiting for a fairy to arrive and wave her magic wand over the House of Commons saying 'come to your senses, come to your senses'," wrote Trefor Davies, chief technology officer for service provider Timico.

"Maybe that's the point at which I wake up and find that I've been dreaming."

However, rightsholders and trade unions representing workers in the film, music, video games and publishing industries said it was a mistake to have held a judicial review of the Act.

"The delay it has caused is to the detriment of the almost two million workers in the creative industries whose livelihoods are put at risk because their creative content is stolen on a daily basis," said Christine Payne, chair of the Creative Coalition Campaign.

"Rather than needlessly celebrating delays they have caused to implementing the law, ISPs should focus on working with rightsholders and the Government to implement the DEA with immediate effect."

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