NEW AMENDMENTS thrown into the Digital Economy Bill by a hardcore of MPs will force search engines to de-list sites linked to piracy from their search results - or risk big fines.
The Digital Economy Bill is also the vehicle that the government plans to use to force age restrictions on porn sites globally - yes, even ones outside UK legal jurisdiction.
It follows a lobbying campaign by copyright holders, who want to use the law to force search engines into a binding ‘code of practice' that will impose new rules on them, with the threat of fines if they don't comply.
A new clause, entitled "Power to provide for a code of practice related to copyright infringement", has been inserted by MPs in a bid to make search engines submit to a "voluntary agreement" with rights holders.
Should they fail to reach agreement, the clause suggests that the government will be empowered to force one upon them. MPs seem to have a funny idea of what the word "voluntary" actually means.
"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a search engine to be required to adopt a code of practice concerning copyright infringement that complies with criteria specified in the regulations," suggests the proposed amendment.
It continues: "The regulations may provide that if a search engine fails to adopt such a code of practice, any code of practice that is approved for the purposes of that search engine by the Secretary of State, or by a person designated by the Secretary of State, has effect as a code of practice adopted by the search engine."
The clause would also grant the government powers to investigate and sanction search engine operators for failure to comply with the code.
Kevin Brennan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West who co-authored the amendments, likened search engines to the Yellow Pages. He suggested that the code would require search engines to restrict the number of results with links to "illegal" websites.
"They continue to take little responsibility for the fact that listings can overwhelmingly consist of illegal content - the equivalent of the ‘Yellow Pages' refusing to take responsibility for publishing the details of crooked traders and fraudsters," he claimed in Parliament.
The Digital Economy Bill will also empower the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to monitor pornographic websites, which will be required by UK law to bar anyone under the age of 18 - even websites hosted and run outside of the UK's legal jurisdiction. Indeed, the BBFC has already been commissioned to fulfil this role before the Bill has even been passed.
However, according to Jerry Barnett, writing on the ‘Sex and Censorship' website, the wording of the relevant passages has become so broad it could be used to censor almost anything the BBFC takes exception to.
"In the current draft of the Bill, the definition of porn has been hugely extended from hardcore material to any sexual/nude/erotic material. The old regulations have been extended from covering just video to including still imagery and even audio...
"Our censorship laws are written by unelected officials with minimal accountability to our elected government. This should deeply worry anybody who cares about democracy," he wrote. µ
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