Digital Economy Bill 2016–17

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Digital Economy Bill 2016
Long title A bill to make provision about electronic communications infrastructure and services; to provide for restricting access to online pornography; to make provision about protection of intellectual property in connection with electronic communications; to make provision about data-sharing; to make provision about functions of OFCOM in relation to the BBC; to provide for determination by the BBC of age-related TV licence fee concessions; to make provision about the regulation of direct marketing; to make other provision about OFCOM and its functions; and for connected purposes.
Introduced by John Whittingdale
Territorial extent England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Other legislation
Relates to Digital Economy Act 2010
Status: Not yet in force
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Digital Economy Bill 2016–17 is a bill of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is substantially different from, and shorter than, the Digital Economy Act 2010, whose provisions largely ended up not being passed into law. The bill addresses policy issues related to electronic communications infrastructure and services, and updates the conditions for and sentencing of criminal copyright infringement. It was introduced to Parliament by culture secretary John Whittingdale on 5 July 2016. Whittingdale was replaced as culture secretary by Karen Bradley on 14 July 2016.[1]


The provisions of the Bill include:[2]

  • Allowing Ofcom, the communications sector's regulator, to financially penalise communications providers for failing to comply with licence commitments.
  • Creating an age-verification regulator to publish guidelines about how pornographic websites should ensure their users are aged 18 or older. The regulator should also be able to fine those which fail to comply. The BBFC has been commissioned to fulfil this role.[3]
  • Creating a legal right to minimum Internet download speeds for customers.
  • Requiring Internet service providers to provide compensation to customers if service requirements are not met.
  • Allowing English and Welsh courts a greater range of sentencing options for Internet copyright infringement.
  • Providing for increased penalties for nuisance calls.
  • Giving Ofcom oversight of the BBC.
  • Updating the Ofcom Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for telecommunications companies to erect and extend mobile masts.[4]


The Government expects the bill to complete its passage through the House of Commons during the Autumn 2016. It will then move to the House of Lords. The Government aims to achieve Royal Assent by the end of Spring 2017.[5]


  • An amendment to the bill extending Public Lending Right to remotely lent e-books was withdrawn at the committee stage.[6]
  • An amendment to the bill making it an offence to use "digital purchasing software" to purchase an excessive number of event tickets for ticket resale[7] was withdrawn at the committee stage.[8]
  • An amendment to the bill was put forward making it an offence to publish or host on-line footage or photographs in cases where the distributors "knew or ought to have known" that it "involved exploited persons". The amendment was subsequently withdrawn.[9]
  • An amendment to the bill was tabled clarifying the employment rights of workers employed via a digital service such as Uber.[10]
  • An amendment to the bill was tabled by the shadow minister for digital economy Louise Haigh, extending the legal obligation on television broadcasters to include subtitles, sign language and audio description when providing video on demand.[11] A government amendment to the same effect was subsequently published by the minister responsible for digital policy Matthew Hancock.[12]
  • In October 2016 a clause entitled: "Power to provide for a code of practice related to copyright infringement" was proposed after a lobbying campaign led by copyright holders.[13] The amendment would require search engines to de-list sites linked to piracy from their search results. It would also grant the government powers to investigate and sanction search engine operators for failure to comply.[3]
  • In November 2016, following pressure from MPs, the government proposed[14] an amendment to the bill[15] to allow the age verification regulator to require internet service providers to block pornographic websites that do not offer age verification.[16] As the BBFC are likely to become the regulator, this has caused discussion about ISPs being required to block content that is prohibited even under an R18 certificate,[17][18] the prohibition of some of which is itself controversial.[18]


The Open Rights Group have raised concerns over aspects of the bill. The provisions for the age verification of pornographic website users caused concern regarding the privacy of collected user data and the possible ineffectiveness of a method focussed on restricting payments. The proposals for bulk data sharing raised concerns over the risk of misuse.[19] The provisions regarding copyright infringements were criticised for the vagueness of the definition and the severity of the maximum sentence (10 years in prison). BILETA, the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association, also criticised the proposal to increase maximum jail term in its submission to the Government's consultation. The proposal was described as 'unacceptable', 'unaffordable', and 'infeasible'.[20][21][22][23]

A number of expert witnesses to the Digital Economy Bill Committee expressed concerns about the bill. Jerry Fishenden, co-chair of the Cabinet Office’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group, expressed the opinion that the bill was based on an "obsolete" model of data sharing. He commented: "I find it surprising the bill doesn’t have definition of what data sharing is, both practically and legally… I’d like to see some precision around what’s meant by data sharing. The lack of detail is concerning." He also said that the bill "appears to weaken citizens’ control over their personal data", something that is "likely to undermine trust in government and make citizens less willing to share their personal data". Jeni Tennison, CEO of the Open Data Institute, commented on the lack of transparency regarding existing public sector data sharing agreements and how the bill's measures fit with them. She spoke of her belief that the bill lacks the transparency needed to avoid the kind of problems that arose with NHS Digital's abandoned programme. Mike Bracken, chief digital officer at the Co-operative Group and former head of the Government Digital Service, expressed the opinion that "the government relies on bulk data sets too often, instead of simply asking for the individual data set pertaining to the information needed". The civil liberties and privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch told the committee said that bill overlooked the work of the Government Digital Service in setting up the Verify scheme, a model based on the government not centrally storing data.[24]

Academic analysis and reference sources[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Digital Economy Bill 2016-17". UK Parliament. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  2. ^ "Digital Economy Bill: Networks and porn sites face fines". BBC News. 6 July 2016. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Graeme Burton (27 October 2016). "MPs to force Google to tackle piracy in Digital Economy Bill". The Inquirer. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  4. ^ Paul Carter (18 October 2016). "Small cells and 5G: What the Digital Economy Bill changes mean for operators". Telecoms Tech. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  5. ^ Mark Jackson (5 July 2016). "New UK Digital Economy Bill Details Broadband USO and Internet Changes". ISP review. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  6. ^ Natasha Onwuemezi (14 November 2016). "EU e-book ruling means change to PLR, says SoA". The Bookseller. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  7. ^ Rob Davies (19 October 2016). "Touts using bots to buy tickets could face jail". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  8. ^ "You Me At Six To Give Evidence Against Secondary Ticketing". M Magazine. 14 November 2016. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  9. ^ Patrick Daly (1 November 2016). "Put online porn barons in prison for showing 'forced' sex acts, says Bristol MP". Bristol Post. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  10. ^ Jon Stone (28 October 2016). "Labour pushes Tories to enshrine workers' rights for Uber drivers into law". The Independent. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  11. ^ Phil Wilkinson-Jones (20 October 2016). "Government has chance to bring subtitling provision 'into 21st century'". Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  12. ^ Phil Wilkinson-Jones (9 February 2017). "Digital Economy Bill will require on-demand programmes to include subtitles". 
  13. ^ Anthony Spadafora (28 October 2016). "MPs amend Digital Economy Bill to force search engines to deal with piracy". IT Pro Portal. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  14. ^ "Notices of amendments given up to and including Thursday 24 November 2016". Parliament of the United Kingdom. 24 November 2016. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  15. ^ Dale Walker (4 November 2016). "Digital Economy Bill could block porn sites that fail to age check". alphr. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  16. ^ Dave Neal (3 November 2016). "MPs table another porn site-blocking amendment to the Digital Economy Bill". The Inquirer. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  17. ^ Kelly Fiveash (24 November 2016). "UK ISPs may be forced to block porn sites that snub age checks, sex acts face ban". Ars Technica. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  18. ^ a b Damien Gayle (23 November 2016). "UK to censor online videos of 'non-conventional' sex acts". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  19. ^ "Digital Economy Bill: Briefing To The House Of Commons On Second Reading". Open Rights Group. 12 September 2016. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  20. ^ "Legal scholars warn against 10 year prison for online pirates". TorrentFreak. 15 August 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  21. ^ "10-year jail sentence for online piracy 'infeasible, unaffordable' say academics". Arstechnica. 17 August 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  22. ^ "You CAN'T jail online pirates for 10 years, legal eagles tell UK govt". The Register. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  23. ^ "UK ploughs ahead with plan for 10-year jail term for online file sharing". Arstechnica. 22 April 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  24. ^ Lis Evenstad (14 October 2016). "Digital Economy Bill lacks clarity on data sharing, experts say". Computer Weekly. Retrieved 24 October 2016.