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Lib Dems back down on Internet filtering

Digital Economy Bill amended after public outcry

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Lib Dem peers will change their amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, according to a report on the Guardian website. The Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords last week.

Under the Liberal Lords' previous amendments, a legal process would be set up to allow copyright holders to demand that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) block access to sites which illegally share their content.

Criticism of the proposed system was not slow in coming. Some of the world's largest technology companies, including luminaries eBay, Google and Yahoo, signed an open letter against the changes to the Bill, which they said "threaten freedom of speech and the open internet". Computerworld UK blogger Glyn Moody summed up opposition to the Bill, stating that in its current form, it is "utterly one-sided, where the only winners are a music recording industry too lazy to change, and the losers are everyone else".

It appears that the Lords have taken note of the depth of disapproval generated by their earlier actions. New amendments to the Bill, proposed by Lib Dem Lord Razzall, provide mechanisms for site operators to challenge any block in court, and for their legal costs to be paid by the copyright holder if the block is judged to have been applied wrongly. This would discourage the industry from issuing 'nuisance' takedown notices to ISPs, and require them to defend their accusations publicly.

However online rights campaigners still have reservations about the content of the Bill. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group has complained that while the amendments are a small improvement, the Bill stills raises the possibility of website blocking, which his organisation has characterised as a threat to free speech and tantamount to censorship.

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