Judge throws out piracy law appeal from ISPs

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A High Court judge yesterday threw out a challenge to the Government's piracy crackdown, paving the way for broadband providers to block illegal file-sharing sites and send warning letters to offenders.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker dismissed all but one of the challenges brought by BT and TalkTalk over the Digital Economy Act, passed by the previous Government shortly before the general election last year.

Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of music-rights group BPI, said the judgment "gives the green light for action to tackle illegal downloading in the UK".

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We are pleased that the court has recognised these measures as both lawful and proportionate."

He added: "The Government remains committed to tackling online piracy and so will set out the next steps for implementation of the Digital Economy Act shortly."

The creative industry estimates that online piracy costs upwards of £400m a year. Yesterday's judgment has given the go-ahead for the Government's proposed measures to curb the practice, including a block on websites where films, books, music and other copyrighted material can be downloaded illegally.

Those involved in the practice will be tracked before formal warnings are sent and persistent offenders will be identified through the courts. The broadband companies were considering their options yesterday after arguing that the Digital Economy Act was seriously flawed and was not compliant with European Union law. They firms had said the measures were disproportionate and unwieldy, with their lawyers arguing that the act would "impact on the privacy and free expression rights" of consumers.

"We are disappointed with the outcome of the Judicial Review," a spokesman for BT said after the decision was handed down yesterday. "We are reviewing this long and complex judgment. This was always about seeking clarity on certain points of law and we have to consider whether this judgment achieves these aims."

The two internet service providers challenged the act on five separate grounds. The judge found in favour of BT and TalkTalk over the question of their paying 25 per cent of the costs of establishing an appeals body. This will not overturn anything in the Digital Economy Act but will require an amendment to the draft Costs Order. BT will still have to pay one-quarter of the administrations and appeals costs.

Groups representing the content companies were delighted with the ruling. John McVay, the chief executive of the trade association Pact, said the review had been "misconceived", adding that the decision "confirms that the Digital Economy Act is a legal, proportionate way to tackle the enormous damage caused by online copyright infringement". He added that instead of wasting time and money on further legal challenges, "BT and TalkTalk now need to focus on working with rights holders and the Government in implementing the DEA".

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