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BT and TalkTalk challenge “unfair” Digital Economy Act in court

by Sarah Griffiths on 8 July 2010, 14:25

Tags: British Telecom (LON:BT.A), TalkTalk

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Digital disaster

BT and TalkTalk have filed papers with the High Court in their latest bid to push for a judicial review into the much-maligned Digital Economy Act.

The two companies have attacked the Act, which came into law in April 2010 and is aimed at online copyright infringement, on the basis that it received ‘insufficient scrutiny' before being ‘rushed' through into law by the previous government. 

In a joint statement, the companies said: "This view 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."

Both companies have also voiced concerns that the measures proposed to prevent online copyright infringement could harm citizens as well as impact on their businesses.  Consequently, they are seeking clarity from the Court before they and others are asked to implement the Act.

TalkTalk in particular has been publicly opposed to the Act since the Digital Britain White paper was published in June 2009. TalkTalk's CEO, Charles Dunstone, made it abundantly clear he would refuse to send his customers warning letters about their alleged illegal activities or disconnect them. The company even went as far as launching ‘‘Don't Disconnect Us', a popular petition which has attracted over 35,000 signatures. 

The Digital Economy Bill was pushed through parliament pronto in the midst of election fever.  After just two hours of debate, it was reportedly passed by 189 votes to 47 with little challenge to its original clauses.  Among the act's most controversial clauses is one which suggests cutting repeat offenders' internet connections and another which allows the government to effectively block pirate sites. 

TalkTalk and BT said they share a concern that some parts of 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." 

The companies want clarity at this stage, so they and other industry players do not invest millions of pounds in new systems and processes, "only to find later that the Act is unenforceable and the money wasted."

Gavin Patterson, CEO of 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."