Digital Economy Bill Proposes File Sharing Law

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The government’s legislative programme includes Digital Economy Bill which will enact Digital Britain’s proposals for universal broadband and a cut in file-sharing  

The government has moved to put plans outlined in its Digital Britain Report into action with the Digital Economy bill, which was introduced as part of the Draft Legislative Programme for 2009/10 published this week.

The government said the bill would take forward its new, more active industrial policy for the UK to maximise the benefits of the digital revolution and launched a period of consultation on the aspects of the Digital Britain Report it targets.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said in a speech on Monday that the Digital Economy Bill would underpin the government’s pledge of broadband access for all by 2012 and a nationwide high-speed network by 2016.

A key proposal includes funding the broadband access pledge, through a combination of increased fixed-line levies and funds released from the licence fee and digital television switchover scheme.

Another is to introduce an anti file-sharing law to combat piracy by extending the powers of the communications watchdog, Ofcom and changing the regulatory framework for network and internet service providers (ISPs) in line with EU law.

The proposals state they will create “a robust legal and regulatory framework to combat illegal file sharing and other forms of online copyright infringement,” where Ofcom will be given a duty to “significantly reduce this practice”.

This could translate to making ISPs send out email warnings to alleged offenders, suspending their services and sharing such users’ data with rights holders in support of potential further legal action.

But the anti file-sharing proposals included in the Digital Economy bill draft pre-empts the government’s ongoing consultation on peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing.

“It is a dangerous move to give any public body the power to block access to communications systems,” wrote media expert, Monica Horton on the IPtegrity.com website. “This is effectively the power that Ofcom will be given.”

Ofcom would also be required to promote investment in infrastructure and content, alongside its current duties to promote competition; and to carry out a full assessment of the UK’s communications infrastructure every two years.