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UK Digital Bill Passed

by Robin Pilgrim,, London

12 April 2010

The Digital Economy Bill, which includes provisions to tackle illegal file sharing in the UK, has been approved by parliament and has passed into law after receiving Royal Assent.

In an attempt to curb the sharing of copyrighted material through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, the Digital Economy Act grants the government a power to impose so-called "technical obligations” on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) which would require them to take measures to limit internet access to certain subscribers and would include bandwidth capping or shaping and temporary suspension of broadband connections.

This has sparked a vociferous debate between civil libertarians and the music industry as to whether the government should have the right to deprive households of an internet connection, which has the potential to punish innocent parties as well as the illegal downloader.

The ISPs themselves have also raised serious concerns over certain provisions of the bill, as well as the government's rush to enact the legislation before parliament's dissolution ahead of the May 6 general election.

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) said that it was "extremely disappointed" by the agreement between the Labour and Conservative front benches to push through the Digital Economy Bill despite serious concerns remaining about some of its clauses.

"The decision to accept the government amendment to clause 18, which enables the Secretary of State to make provisions about the granting of blocking injunctions by a court, is unacceptable given the lack of consultation on the impact of the clause," ISPA stated following the bill's 3rd reading in parliament.

"Despite the inclusion of some safeguards that have improved the clauses on unlawful P2P filesharing, the case for the technical obligations contained in clauses 11-17 is yet to be made," ISPA continued. "It is with much regret that the majority of parliamentarians, with some notable exceptions, have been persuaded by copyright owners to forego the necessary parliamentary scrutiny in order to rush through legislation that in many ways is disproportionate, unworkable and will serve only to preserve failing business models and prevent new innovative lawful models of distributing content online."

One ISP, TalkTalk, has vowed to protect its customers identity and insists that it will not disconnect any of its subscribers unless ordered to do so by a judge.

"If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement, we will refuse to do so and tell the rights holders we'll see them in court," Andrew Heaney, TalkTalk’s director of strategy and regulation, wrote in a blog post.

TalkTalk is of the view that most music fans will switch to alternative ways of accessing copyright-protected content for free if using P2P services leaves them vulnerable to disconnection.

"There is a large and growing array of non P2P tools available, including applications which scan thousands of internet radio stations and download the desired tracks in a wholly undetectable way," the company said last month. "There are also services which effectively conceal users’ IP addresses, allowing them to download material without detection."

Heaney has also dismissed the record industry's claims that file sharing is contributing to its demise as "scaremongering."

"They have consistently claimed that new technology will wipe them out – for instance in the 1980s with the ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’ campaign. Of course, taping didn’t kill music, the industry adapted and survived," Heaney said. “Over the past few years consumers have become used to accessing music and video content online for free. We don’t condone it or encourage it but this behaviour is embedded in a whole generation of music fans."

TAGS: commerce | law | intellectual property | copyright | internet | e-commerce | legislation | regulation

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