The UK parliament recently passed a piece of legislation called the Digital Economy Bill (now known as the Digital Economy Act, or DEA). The DEA is a collection of measures designed to target copyright and other IP violations on the Internet and in other forms of electronic communication. Reaction to the bill’s passage has been critical in many corners of the tech industry, as several service providers view some of its openly-worded provisions as an opportunity for government overreach. It gives the government the power to block entire websites like YouTube if they are found to possess unauthorized content, despite the best efforts of the site to remove offending content. This is a stark contrast to the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA in the U.S. We’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
Others have raised concerns that the DEA will allow content owners to ask for, and receive, the identity and address of suspected file-sharers from ISPs. What’s worse, it also imposes a “guilty-until-proved-innocent” position on accusations of piracy that would be costly for ordinary citizens to defend in court. Most people might not have a problem with the first part, but we’ve seen that people skilled in using the Internet for nefarious purposes are capable of using botnets and other tools to harness the power of ordinary peoples’ computers to cover their tracks.
What is of greater importance to readers of this blog may, of course, be the provisions that pertain to video games and virtual worlds. As always, copyright and other IP rights are major legal issues. The Guardian reports that the DEA will convey authority over regulating game classification to a new authority separate from the current one which also regulates movies and cinema. This means that there will be a new body specifically designed with games in mind. This could have a net positive effect on the game industry, as it will allow regulators to develop expertise in the nuances of game structure and mechanics that might have otherwise escaped the current body.
Most of these issues will only affect users in the UK, but in this era of interconnected and globally-accessible worlds, it’s good to keep track of what’s going on out here in meatspace…