Digital Economy Bill Approved By Lords

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The House of Lords has approved the Digital Economy Bill, leaving the fate of file-sharers in the hands of the Commons, while a study claims piracy is costing a million jobs in Europe

The controversial Digital Economy Bill has passed its third reading in the House of Lords, and now all eyes are on the Commons as they come under pressure to finalise the legislation.

The Bill contains several measures designed to reduce copyright infringement and combat piracy, some of which have been widely opposed and discredited by industry commentators and Internet service providers (ISPs). As it stands, the Bill will enable government to impose a “three strikes rule”, giving the government powers to suspend illegal file-sharers’ Internet connections .

“We urge clear action against copyright infringers using the Bill’s provisions after Royal Assent,” said John Lovelock, chief executive of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST). “Whilst campaigners have rightly pointed out that we shouldn’t allow politicians the power to meddle unrestrained with our copyright regime, let us be clear, there are checks and balances in place being eminently sensible given the rapid pace in digital technology and the difficulties in protecting intellectual property.”

Significant changes to Lord Mandelson’s powers

Even at this late stage of the Bill’s progress through parliament, significant changes are being made. Earlier this month, the House of Lords dismissed Clause 17, which would have given Business Secretary Lord Mandelson the power to alter copyright law. The Lords replaced it with a new – and arguably more draconian – clause, which enables courts to issue an injunction against any website accused of hosting a “substantial proportion” of material that infringes copyright.

“I believe this is going to send a powerful message to our creative industries that we value what they do, that we want to protect what they do, that we do not believe in censoring the Internet but we are responding to genuine concerns,” said Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones at the time. He also described the proposal as a “more proportionate, specific and appropriate” method of tackling copyright infringement.

However,the UK Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA) has described the amendment as “negligent … misjudged and disproportionate”.

“ISPA has been supportive of Peers’ excellent scrutiny of the Bill to date,” said Nicholas Lansman, ISPA Secretary-General. “However, in this instance, our members are extremely concerned that the full implications of the amendment have not been understood and that the reasoning behind the amendment is wholly misguided.”

Tories hold the power

Now that the bill has reached its second reading in the House of Commons, it is likely to enter the “wash up” process – where legislation that has not finished its passage through parliament is pushed through before parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election.

At this stage the government will only be able to pass the Bill with the support of the opposition, so any clauses that are opposed by the Tories are likely to be dropped. The Conservatives have already requested that government reverses a bid to set up “independently financed news consortia”, which will produce regional news to be shown only on ITV1.

“We have been clear that we want the bill to go through as quickly as possible,” a Tory spokeswoman told TechEye earlier this month. “We are keen to get this passed and have therefore tried to speed up the bill by being clear over the clause we would like changed. This will hopefully decrease time spent on debate and further amendments and help the bill get passed.”

File-sharing costs a million jobs?

A study released yesterday, commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce, found that the growth of illegal file-sharing could cost European countries 1.2 million jobs and €240 billion (£215bn) by 2015. It claims that without measures to curb piracy, the UK alone could lose up a quarter of a million jobs by 2015.

“If there was ever the proof needed to demonstrate why the Digital Economy Bill is imperative for the protection of our creative industries, this report is it,” said Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, speaking to the BBC.

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