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Talk Talk Restates Pledge To Go To Court Over Digital Economy Act Measures

Telco Talk Talk has restated its pledge to take music and film companies to court if they try to use parts of the just-passed Digital Economy Act. It said it will not hand over any customer details without a court order.

The Act was passed by the Houses of Commons and Lords yesterday and became law. It includes the power for ministers to force internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect households or businesses from the internet if copyright holders claim that the connection is being used to infringe their rights.

There is no court oversight of the orders, though there is an appeals process in place. The Government must consult Parliament before bringing the disconnection measures into force.

"Unless we are served with a court order we will never surrender a customer’s details to rightsholders," said executive director of strategy and regulation at phone and internet provider TalkTalk Andrew Heaney in a blog post. "We are the only major ISP to have taken this stance and we will maintain it."

"If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rightsholders we’ll see them in court," said Heaney.

The measures do not come into effect automatically, and the Government will have to go through Parliament before they do. Heaney said that this represented an opportunity for it and others to oppose the measures.

"TalkTalk will continue to battle against these oppressive proposals – they will require ’secondary legislation’ before they can be implemented," he said. "After the election we will resume highlighting the substantial dangers inherent in the proposals and that the hoped for benefits in legitimate sales will not materialise as filesharers will simply switch to other undetectable methods to get content for free."

The measures have been widely opposed by telcos, web publishers and by digital rights activists. Thousands emailed their MPs about the bill and many were shocked when just a handful debated the issues this week in rushed Parliamentary sessions, and when hundreds of MPs who had not participated in the debates voted the Bill through.

The Act also contains controversial proposals, first mooted by Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers, to block any location on the internet being used or even likely to be used for copyright infringement.

Heaney said that though the Act is an improvement on early drafts, it is still dangerous.

"[The Act] is now in much better shape than when first tabled by the Government last year – the ability of the Government to impose disconnection at will has been checked and the Henry VIII clause that literally allowed the Government to do anything else to reduce copyright infringement has been removed," he said.

"However, many draconian proposals remain such as the responsibility on customers to protect their home networks from hacking at a collective cost of hundreds of millions of pounds a year, the presumption that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent and, as in China, the potential for legitimate search engines and websites to be blocked," he said.