Peer drops damages-quantification amendment to digital bill

Out-Law News | 15 Jan 2010 | 10:08 am | 2 min. read

A Conservative peer who had proposed forcing copyright holders to detail the exact damage they suffered when trying to force alleged infringers off the internet will drop the plan. Lord Lucas told OUT-LAW Radio that he would "not pursue" the proposal.

Lord Lucas is a hereditary peer who is one of a handful of House of Lords members attempting to rewrite the Government's controversial Digital Economy Bill to strengthen the rights of users of copyrighted material against claims from the businesses who own and manage the copyrights.

Lucas told OUT-LAW Radio that copyright law was "a necessary evil". He has proposed a number of amendments to the Bill, including demands that it formally legalise the way that search engines operate; and that it give individuals the right to take legal action against companies that make groundless threats of copyright infringement proceedings.

He had proposed forcing companies making claims to quantify exactly what their losses were in a bid to give potential infringers more clarity, but has now said that this plan is impractical.

"The precise way I had looked at doing this does not work because I had been listening too much to the language being used about this being a Bill that was about people who downloaded copyrighted material," he told OUT-LAW Radio. "This bit of the Bill is not about that, it's about people who make their material available for upload."

"The only way the copyright industry can establish transgression is to go on to these peer to peer services, to download material themselves and can make a note of where it's coming from. There is no known technology which will within the limits of the Computer Misuse Act and the Data Protection Act allow somebody to know who has downloaded material from a peer to peer network," he said. "All you can see is who has made material available for upload."

"The transgression we're going to be dealing with is making music or making copyright product available for downloading by others [so] the question how do you decide what people are above and below the threshold becomes really pretty difficult and I don't know that the Government has clear ideas on that and we will have to pursue them further," he said. "The idea under those circumstances of trying to put a value on the transgression won't work. I'm not going to pursue that as a concept."

The Digital Economy Bill is the proposed law the Government is using to implement the parts of the Digital Britain report that require legislation. It was initially controversial because it includes the proposal to sever internet connections used by suspected file sharers, which was not part of the Digital Britain report.

Controversy has spread to other areas of the Bill, though. Lucas has tabled amendments which would legalise the copying of web pages that is integral to the way that search engines operate. He has also proposed a remedy for people who believe they have been victims of groundless copyright infringement threats.

Lucas said that businesses that rely on copyright should focus less on getting the law changed and more on restructuring their own businesses to deal with the realities of the digital world

"I think the key to protecting copyright in a digital age is to offer the customer something more than they can get for free," he said. "We have to make copyright effective but at the same time copyright holders have to live in the real world."

Hear: Lord Lucas on OUT-LAW Radio