Committee (4th Day)

Part of Digital Economy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 20th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Government Whip, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Postal Affairs and Employment Relations) (also Lord in Waiting) 6:30 pm, 20th January 2010

My Lords, I am not sure how the proposed new clause would be of benefit to the people it aims to help. Copyright owners are currently threatening to take people to court, and it is precisely that threat that the clause seeks to address. However, it does so by offering the individual concerned the right to go to court-precisely what the individual is assumed to be trying to avoid. After all, if they are confident that the threat is unfounded, and that a court will uphold that view, they would be as well off by simply letting the copyright owner pursue them and then seeking costs when the court finds in their favour.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said that these actions are appalling and unacceptable, but nobody has referred them to any of the regulatory bodies. I find that strange. We are saying that we have had thousands of these cases yet nobody has said that this law firm is acting in a totally unacceptable way. I should have thought that the legal regulatory bodies would by now have been involved and I am puzzled why they have not been.

I am also concerned by the suggestion that notification of a copyright infringement report as set out in the Bill should constitute a threat in this context. The noble Lord should be aware that the notifications, at least in the first instance, will not be threatening, and at no stage will they seek money from the subscriber. A notification under the Bill cannot of itself result in court action against the subscriber. Indeed, even putting the subscriber on the copyright infringement list cannot itself result in any direct contact between the copyright owner and the subscriber, and certainly not a threat of legal action or a demand for money. The copyright owner would first have to go to court, as they do now, to get an order to make the ISP release the subscriber's name and address. Therefore, although I have a good deal of sympathy with what the noble Lord is trying to achieve and while there may be scope to look at it again in the future, I do not think that the new clause is practicable.

A number of noble Lords asked what we were doing about this since we had sympathy with the amendment. We have undertaken to write to the Ministry of Justice. However, I hope that I have explained that we do not think the new clause is practicable and I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.