Yesterday I was in London for a UCISA Executive meeting. One of the main items we discussed was the implications of the Digital Economy Act on Universities. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not particularly enamoured by it, and I'm afraid my opinion of it is not getting any better!
Despite the LibDems intention to repeal it, that doesn't seem to have made it into the ConDems manifesto, so it looks as though we are stuck with it. It is intended that the bulk of the measures in the Act are up and running by January 2011. Given that the measures to deal with copyright infringements will need both European and parliamentary approval (estimated to take 5 months), that doesn't leave a lot of time for consultation. There has already been some consultation on the costs associated with its implementation, and both JANET and UCISA have responded. The JANET response contains a link to the original consultation document.
The main challenge we face is that is not clear what the Act defines as an ISP, or as a subscriber. Universities could fall under either category. The process laid out in the Act is that every rights holder will have to lodge a sum of money with Ofcom for every ISP that they expect to make a complaint with, based on the number of complaints they expect to make. This sum of money will be called off every time a complaint it made. With me so far? That's every rights holder, with every ISP. As the Act does not clearly define an ISP - that could be many, many orgainisations. If every University is classed as an ISP for example, that means that every rights holder will have to work out how many complaints they expect to make against each University and lodge that sum of money with Ofcom. And then there's libraries, hospitals, prisons, small businesses...... You couldn't make it up could you?
UCISA have responded to the effect that this will place an unacceptable administrative burden on Universities, when we already have effective mechanisms in place.
So, might it be better if we're classed as a subscriber? Well no, because if that's the case, and we get a number of complaints we could be cut off from the the internet entirely!
So, our plan at the moment is to try and persuade Ofcom to agree a code of conduct with Universities outside of this scheme, which mirrors the situation we have at the moment - if we get a complaint, we investigate and deal with it. Our track record is quite good and we get few repeat offenders. So, watch this space....