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BT And TalkTalk Granted Final DEA Appeal

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Internet service providers BT and TalkTalk will be given a final chance to get the Digital Economy Act repealed

Long-term opponents of the Digital Economy Act (DEA), BT and TalkTalk, have been granted permission to launch a fresh challenge against the controversial law which is designed to enforce copyright protection online.

In a hearing at the Court of Appeal this morning, Lord Justice Lewison gave BT and TalkTalk leave to appeal the DEA on four grounds. The companies had previously been denied permission to appeal the decision, which could result in illegal file-sharers having their Internet service disrupted, or being cut off all together.

The Internet service providers (ISPs) object to the DEA, which came into force in June 2010, on the grounds that it is disproportionate, and that it infringes Internet users’ basic rights. They have also raised concerns about how the legislation works alongside directives from the European Union on technical standards, authorisation, e-commerce, as well as privacy and electronic communications.

“We are pleased to have been granted permission to appeal the high court judgement,” said BT in a statement. “We now expect that the hearing will take place as soon as possible.”

Persistent offenders to be cut off

The DEA was created in response to complaints that Internet users were breaching copyright by sharing material online. It sets out a series of measures against illegal-file-sharers, starting with a warning and escalating to persistent offenders having their Internet connection suspended.

The Act, which was rushed through parliament in the closing days of the previous government, has drawn particular criticism from rights organisations. Jim Killock, executive Director of the Open Rights Group, has previously condemned the government’s “heavy-handed approach to copyright enforcement”.

BT and TalkTalk began their legal challenge in July 2010, and were granted a judicial review in November. However, the ISPs failed in their initial bid to have the Digital Economy Act’s copyright measures ruled illegal. They appealed to the High Court in May but were denied a second hearing at that time.

The decision to grant the ISPs a second appeal means that the government will have to delay its plans to start sending warning letters to illegal file-sharers – due to begin in the first half of 2012.

Lib Dems and Tories divided

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have formally pledged to repeal certain elements of the DEA. Last month the party voted on a policy to remove the controversial copyright enforcement and website-blocking measures in the Digital Economy Act, after a technology policy paper was put forward at the Autumn Conference.

“Tackling piracy is important, but it shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself,” said Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, chairman of the party’s Technology Policy Working Group, speaking to the Guardian newspaper. “It’s more important to create conditions that reward innovation and talent, and ensure that creators get the benefits of their work.”

It is unlikely the vote will result in a change in government policy on the DEA, but it does highlight the growing rift between the Lib Dems and Conservatives. The Conservatives essentially inherited the Digital Economy Act from Labour, but so far have only offered a six month review of current IP protection laws.