BT and TalkTalk in Legal Challenge to Digital Economy Act

July 7, 2010

BT and TalkTalk are seeking a judicial review of the elements of the Digital Economy Act that deal with online copyright infringement. 

The two companies believe that provisions in the Act,  aimed at the prevention of online copyright infringement, received insufficient scrutiny before being rushed through into law at the tail end of the last Parliament.  That view, they say, is shared by many MPs of all parties, who also have concerns about the legislative process that was followed and the lack of a normal parliamentary timetable.

As well as having procedural concerns, BT and TalkTalk state that the measures proposed to try to prevent online copyright infringement could harm citizens as well as having a negative impact on their businesses.  As a result, they are seeking clarity from the court before they and others are asked to implement the Act.  

As far as is understood at this stage, the specific challenge will suggest that the Act is not consistent with EU obligations. A press release states that ‘the companies share a concern that obligations imposed by the Act may not be compatible with important European rules that are designed to ensure that national laws are proportionate, protect users’ privacy, restrict the role of ISPs in policing the Internet and maintain a single market.  If clarity is not gained at this stage then BT, TalkTalk and other industry players may end up investing tens of millions of pounds in new systems and processes only to find later that the Act is unenforceable and the money wasted.’ 

Gavin Patterson, CEO, BT Retail, said: ‘It’s disappointing that we feel the need to take action but we feel we have no choice. We have to do this for our customers who otherwise run the risk of being treated unfairly. Our dispute is not with the current Government but with the way the previous administration pushed this through without due process. We need clarity about whether this legislation is compatible with important EU laws.’ 

Charles Dunstone, Chairman of the TalkTalk Group, said: ‘The Digital Economy Act’s measures will cost the UK hundreds of millions and many people believe they are unfair, unwarranted and won’t work. So it’s no surprise that in Nick Clegg’s call for laws to repeal, this Act is top of the public’s wish list. Innocent broadband customers will suffer and citizens will have their privacy invaded. We think the previous Government’s rushed approach resulted in flawed legislation. That’s why we need a judicial review by the High Court as quickly as possible before lots of money is spent on implementation.’

A spokesman from the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: ‘The Digital Economy Act sets out to protect our creative economy from the continued threat of online copyright infringement, which industry estimates costs the creative industries, including creators, £400m per year. We believe measures are consistent with EU legislation and that there are enough safeguards in place to protect the rights of consumers and ISPs and will continue to work on implementing them.’