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Act risks limiting internet access in libraries, schools and universities

A coalition of leading organisations that support learning, libraries and librarians today warned that the Digital Economy Act risks forcing public libraries, schools, colleges and universities to limit access to the internet, and therefore to learning.

The coalition supports the intention of the Act - to fight piracy and protect content creators’ rights - but says that the Government is going the wrong way about it by treating libraries, schools, colleges and universities in the same way as private individuals. The implementation of the Act could have unintended consequences by inhibiting education, learning and the acquisition of knowledge.

Libraries and educational institutions have acceptable use policies and filter undesirable websites, but currently under the Act if online copyright infringement takes place the library would be subject to the same legal appeals measures as an individual at home, if it cannot somehow persuade its Internet Service Provider (ISP) that it is actually not a subscriber under the Act.

Organisations supporting the call for Ofcom to create a separate category are Research Libraries UK, The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, Universities UK, the Society of College, National and University Libraries, the Scottish Library & Information Council, Scotland’s Colleges and the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance.

Phil Bradley, President of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals said: “A library acting as an intermediary, providing internet access to hundreds if not thousands of people is fundamentally different from you or I going online at home. This isn’t about excluding libraries from the Act, it isn’t about breaking copyright law or endorsing piracy - it’s about recognising libraries’ unique role by creating an exception within the Act – which Ofcom are perfectly able to do. Ofcom are already creating an exception for commercial suppliers of WiFi for example.”

Measures will include a legal appeals process, being placed on a copyright infringement list, and if the Act is implemented in full potentially in the future the slowing of internet speed or the suspension of internet access altogether.

At a time when services across the public sector are experiencing reduced budgets and pressure to make savings, the costs of managing and monitoring the implementation of the Act and the risk of local authorities, schools, colleges and universities having their reputations damaged by being placed on an infringement list could lead many libraries to pull the plug on internet access altogether.

A briefing for libraries and educational establishments has been prepared to help understand the implications of the Digital Economy Act and minimize the risks.

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