Lord Puttnam: Digital Economy Act is ‘inadequate’ in meeting 21st century challenges

By Jasper Jackson

The Digital Economy Act will allow the government to disconnect the very worst offending online piracy offenders from the internet, potentially cutting many ordinary people from an increasingly vital service.

But the act, now passed into law, was undermined by the speed of the legislative "washup" process at the end of the last Parliament and the extreme positions taken by organisations contributing to the debate, according to a member of the House of Lords who tabled a number of amendments to the bill.

Speaking at a Frontlline Club debate on the future of the Digital Economy Act, the Labour peer Lord Puttnam said that "common sense went out the window” during the bill’s passage. The film producer and former CEO of Columbia Pictures said that difficulties caused by the government’s decision to push through the Bill resulted in an “inadequate draft and no time for proper scrutiny scrutiny.


If you couldn’t be with us for this event, then you can watch the whole thing here:



Lord Puttnam said the lack of scrutiny of the bill was compounded by the hostility between rights holders and those advocating a more open approach to copyright, coupled with the failure of rights holders and internet service providers (ISPs) to agree on providing alternatives to illegal file sharing.

“Instead of a sensible thoughtful move towards 21st century copyright legislation. We had almost lunatic opposing forces. Two groups who couldn’t agree on the cash split, and another group who didn’t want anyone to be paid for anything under any circumstances.

We had to navigate our way through some sensible middle. In some respects we got there, and in some respects we patently didn’t.”

Lord Lucas, who also proposed changes to the legislation, laid the blame for music piracy at the feet of a record industry “which wants to be the way it always was”. He said copyright law is an “essentially undesirable” tool necessary to protect creative individuals and organisations, but that rights holders had failed to provide a viable alternative to illegal downloading.

However, Richard Mollet, Director of Public Affairs at music industry body BPI, disagreed, insisting there are many legal alternatives to piracy. “Let it not be said that the music industry is relying on legislation to do the dirty work because we are not providing services online,” he said.

Mollet also welcomed provisions in the Digital Economy Act for sending warning letters to those whose connections are being used for illegal file-sharing, saying the tactic would be effective in reducing copyright infringement without the need to disconnect large numbers of people.

“You’ve simply written letters and said ‘do you know there’s another way?’. That is at the heart of the digital economy act.”

Andrew Heaney, Executive Director of Strategy & Regulation for ISP TalkTalk, said ISPs do not see the debate over file sharing in purely financial terms, insisting that “it’s down to a set of principles.” However, he said the cost of licensing content from rights holders currently stops many ISPs from providing legal alternatives to file sharing.