Opponents Rally Against Digital Bill Clampdown

Amendments to the Digital Economy Bill have been criticised by industry groups, who claim the measures will be ineffective

The government’s Digital Economy Bill, which includes measures to cut off suspected illegal file-sharers and force ISPs to block pirated content, is continuing to attract opposition as it works its way through parliament.

The bill, which is due to have its third reading in the House of Lords on Monday, has been criticised by organisations including the Chartered Institute for IT (British Computer Society) as well as more fringe groups such as the UK Pirate Party.

Last week, Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers added amendment 120A to the bill, which gives a high court judge the right to issue an injunction against a website accused of hosting copyright infringing material. The Liberal Democrats, with the Tories apparently in support, are also planning to add to the amendment this week with a plan to force copyright owners to pay any legal costs or other compensation to ISPs required to block the sites carrying copyrighted material.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture minister, told the FT that the amendments to the Digital bill are designed to make sure that content owners – including the music and film industries – are not able to push for wholesale blocking of sites they object to. “We want to make sure that [amendment 120A] doesn’t have the effect of meaning that lots and lots of websites are blocked without a court order being granted,” he told the newspaper.

But despite attempts by opposition to peers to dilute some aspects of the Bill, minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms continued to defend the measures. “It is essential that action is taken to deal quickly and efficiently with copyright piracy and our proposals strike the right balance,” he said in a letter to the FT this weekend.

As well as undergoing amendments in the Lords, the Digital Economy Bill has also been criticised by the Chartered Institute for IT according to reports in The Guardian. The institute appears to be particularly concerned about the aspects of the bill which could see Internet access of households or organisations – such as public libraries – cut off if the systems are deemed to have been used for persistent file-sharing. “The Institute is highlighting the importance of the internet to citizenship, and the opportunities for everyone to participate,” said Elizabeth Sparrow, president of the Institute. “These opportunities could be curtailed and even diminished if some of the proposals being discussed make it in to law.”

Last week BT chief executive Ian Livingstone joined a group of industry executives and high profile figures – from organisations including Orange, Virgin Media, Google and the Open Rights Group – in writing an open letter to the Financial Times, urging that changes be made to the Digital Economy Bill.

Other recent opposition to the bill has come from the UK Pirate Party which cited research from ISP TalkTalk pointing to increased levels of illegal downloading resulting from any moves to ban the behaviour by cutting-off users. “The choices being made by parliament will not stop future generations downloading music, they will simply decide if future generation consider the law and the political process to be their enemy or not,” said Pirate Party UK leader Andrew Robinson. “One-sided laws written by record companies will simply strengthen people’s resolve to fight for what they believe is right.”

The TalkTalk survey revealed that 80 percent of the 18 to 34 year olds it surveyed would look for undetectable ways to download copyrighted content if the cut-off plans in the Digital Economy Bill are passed. “It doesn’t matter how many sites are blocked, how many families are snooped on or how many customers are disconnected, music fans who want to can and will get the content they want online for free,” said Andrew Heaney, executive director of Strategy and Regulation at TalkTalk.

“Whatever measures are taken it will have little impact on the music industry’s coffers but will leave in its wake innocent customers disconnected from the internet. […] The Bill reverses the core principles of natural justice by requiring customers to prove their innocence,” he added.

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