Digital Economy Bill Welcomed By Supporters

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The music industry welcomed it, the ISPs panned it. The Digital Economy Bill got Royal Assent and is now law

The highly controversial Digital Economy Bill has now past into law after it received Royal Assent from the Queen, a decision hailed by some of its loudest supporters.

The Usual Suspects

It is well known that the music industry has been one of the most vocal proponents of the Digital Economy Bill.

“UK Music welcomes the creation of the Digital Economy Act,” said UK Music chief Feargal Sharkey: “We acknowledge that the real work begins now – both in terms of developing a code of practice with industry partners and Ofcom, cooperating with internet service providers, and by opening up even more legitimate ways for fans to enjoy the music and creativity that they love.”

The British Recorded Music Industry also welcomed the decision.

“The Act’s measures to reduce illegal downloading will spur on investment in new music and innovation in legal business models,” said BPI chief Geoff Taylor. “An internet that rewards taking creative risks will mean more British bands enjoying global success, more choice in how to access music online, and more jobs in our fast-growing creative sector. These measures will not eliminate all piracy, but they will go a long way towards reducing illegal freeloading and will help to build a more sustainable ecosystem for content on the internet.”

And the Bill was also welcomed by Federation Against Software Theft (FAST).

“The creative industries are today what manufacturing used to mean to the UK’s economy in previous decades. IP contributes a total of £53 billion to our GDP, which equates to around eight per cent overall, while the creative industries that include software, film, music, games, eBooks and other sectors are responsible for employing 1.9 million people,” said John Lovelock, chief executive of FAST. “Having such a strong impact on our country’s financial position, it’s been astounding that it’s taken this long for it to reach the statute books.”

“Issues of software piracy, counterfeiting, illegal file-sharing, lack of compliance in business together with a lack of appreciation for copyright among the public are all current and serious threats to the economy,” he added. “As a country we must show leadership and empower our current and emerging industry. The Bill is a step in the right direction as we now have a course of action to impede further damage, but there is a sting in the tail. Rights holders must work to make the most of it including court action against the worst culprits or there is a risk little will be achieved.”

Vocal Critics

However the bill was passed by 189 votes to 47 in the House of Parliament this week, after just two hours of debate, and despite widespread opposition from campaign groups.

Even former Digital Minister Tom Watson voted against the bill – the first time he has sided against the government.

However the bill did not escape unscathed. Clause 43 which focused on the use of so-called orphan works was dropped amid criticism from groups representing photographers. The government also appeared to have back-tracked on moves to block websites containing copyrighted content which were proposed in clause 18 of the bill. However these proposals were later reinserted into bill in an amendment to clause 8.

The clause has been criticised for potentially allowing sites such as Wikileaks – which often refers to copyrighted information – to be shut-down, and has been criticised as being an attack on free-speech.

And some of the most vocal critics of the bill are from the IT sector, including BT chief executive Ian Livingstone and Charles Dunstone, the boss of one of the UK’s largest ISPs, TalkTalk.

Dunstone on his blog admitted that while the Bill is now in much better shape than when it was first tabled by the Government last year, it still contains dangerous powers.

“However, many draconian proposals remain such as the responsibility on customers to protect their home networks from hacking at a collective cost of hundreds of millions of pounds a year, the presumption that they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent, and as in China, the potential for legitimate search engines and websites to be blocked,” Dunstone wrote.

“This is made all the more appalling by the ability of big music and film companies to influence government and the absence of any proper debate or scrutiny by MPs – only 5 percent of MPs turned up for the brief debate yesterday and the other important Parliamentary stages will be bypassed in the wash-up process.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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