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.
The potential harm is significant because half of people who use the internet in a public space did so in a public library. Children, students, researchers, families, business and communities access the internet through public libraries and educational institutions to support learning and develop knowledge. The failure to recognise their unique role as intermediaries could see the plug pulled on internet access across the country.
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.
Despite written assurances in 2011 from Ed Vaizey MP, Minister of Culture Communications and Creative Industries, stating that "libraries and universities will not be within scope of the obligations" of the Act and repeated appeals to Ofcom, no separate category under the Act has been created to recognise the unique intermediary role libraries and educational establishment play providing internet access.
Organisations supporting the call for Ofcom to create a separate category are Research Libraries UK, The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Universities UK, the Society of College, National and University Libraries, the Scottish Library and Information Council, Scotland's Colleges and the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance.
"Under the Act libraries would be treated the same as an individual at home going online," said Phil Bradley, President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, "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 minimise the risks.
Mark Taylor, Director of External Relations, CILIP
Tel: 020 7255 0654
Mobile: 07792 635 305
Notes for editors:
- CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is the leading professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers. CILIP's vision is a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. CILIP is a registered charity, no. 313014. Visit www.cilip.org.uk for more information.
- The Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance (LACA) is a UK umbrella group convened by CILIP. LACA brings together the UK's major professional organisations and experts representing librarians and archivists to lobby in the UK and Europe about copyright issues which impact delivery of access to knowledge and information by libraries, archives and information services in the digital age
- Consisting of the top research institutions in the UK and Ireland, including the three UK National Libraries, Research Libraries UK (RLUK) has for over 25 years been at the forefront of instigating and supporting openly available research resources, including Copac, the Archives Hub, SHERPA, and 19th Century British Pamphlets Online. RLUK is a major thought leader in the UK library sector, and works with its partners nationally and internationally to ensure that the UK has the best research support in the world.
- SCONUL: The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) represents all university libraries in the UK and Ireland, irrespective of mission group. It promotes awareness of the role of academic libraries in supporting research excellence and student achievement and employability, and represents their views and interests to governments and regulators. It helps academic libraries collaborate to deliver services efficiently including through shared services, and to share knowledge and best practice. For further information about SCONUL please see our website at www.sconul.ac.uk
Scotland's Colleges was created in 2009 from the merger of the sector organisations, SFEU, SCI, ASC and COLEG, in order to enhance collective efforts to make a positive impact on learners in the Scottish college sector. Legally SFEU and ASC continue to exist with SFEU as the parent company and ASC as its wholly owned subsidiary.
Building on our combined expertise, along with our passion and ability to respond to the wide-ranging demands of Scotland's college community, we are able to lead and influence with innovative approaches to meet the ever changing needs of the sector. By being at the heart of collective activity within the college sector, we aim to create a greater coherence, making the collective stronger for our member colleges, their staff and Scotland's learners.
- The Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) is the independent advisory body to the Scottish Government on library and information services. SLIC offers leadership focus and support to the Scottish library and information sector, coordinating and promoting national service developments to benefit Scotland's people and enrich the Scottish cultural, educational and economic landscape.
- Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK, providing high quality leadership and support to its members to promote a successful and diverse higher education sector. With 134 members and offices in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, it promotes the strength and success of UK universities nationally and internationally. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk
 Department for Culture, Media and Sport, "The modernisation review of public libraries: A policy statement" March 2010, p40