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Digital Economy Bill is passed into law

Analysis Downloader gulags on the horizon
Fri Apr 09 2010, 14:45

THE DIGITAL ECONOMY BILL was passed into law this morning.

Rushed through Parliament over Easter when most MPs were apparently tucking into hot cross buns and religious sermons, the Bill is now the Act, and will come into effect in two months time.

peter-mandelsonThought up by Peter Mandelson just days after a holiday with a music industry executive, and largely steered by the British Phonographic Industry, the Digital Economy Bill has gathered opposition like stones gather moss everywhere except, it appears, at the House of Commons.

Opposition from the organisations that will be responsible for policing some of its rules, specifically, the fact that ISPs should send out warning letters to allegedly copyright infringing users, didn't do much to diminish MPs confidence in the Bill.

Under the terms of the Act Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be required to comply with rights-holder requests for user details, and will be expected to act as middlemen, passing on warning letters to their customers suspected of copyright infringement by the big media companies, and ultimately also as enforcers, throttling or disconnecting the Internet access of accused filesharing scofflaws.

Yesterday, while the transition from Bill to Act still hung in the air like the blade of a guillotine, Talk Talk, a fittingly vocal opponent, promised not to bow to its draconian proposals.

Andrew Heaney, executive director of strategy and regulation at Talk Talk, said, "After the election we will resume highlighting the substantial dangers inherent in the proposals and that the hoped for benefits in legitimate sales will not materialise as filesharers will simply switch to other undetectable methods to get content for free."

It is still not clear how ISPs will be expected to trace users via their IP addresses, nor has it been explained who will pay for the costs involved, though we expect that we all will pay.

The issue of who will be held responsible should an accused copyright infringer be found to be an unsecured wireless network, at say a hotel or coffee shop, is still unresolved. And no one is really convinced that the scheme will halt filesharing traffic, or that stopping illegal downloads will increase profits in the increasingly out-of-touch music and film industries.

The telecom company O2 also is concerned about the scope of the Act, and following its assent said that laws are no solution to the problem. Instead, it suggested that media companies should look for new mechanisms for delivering paid content, at a much cheaper price.

"It may sound harsh but that's life in a market economy and that's what happens when a technology revolution takes place", said Felix Geyr, head of O2 Home & Broadband.

"Some people vainly try to prop up the old system - like the luddites who smashed up the mechanical looms during the industrial revolution, while others recognise that change is inevitable and adapt to a new model."

Geyr added that since the music industry had already ‘had its way' it should focus on modernising itself, "Our message to the lobbyists who have been campaigning so hard for this change in the law is simple: you've got what you wanted. Now wake up, smell the coffee, and start really focusing on giving customers what they want."

The Open Rights Group (ORG) executive director Jim Killock was scathing about the way the bill was passed into the law, and is urging UK citizens to vote only for those MPs that actually stood up against it.

"This week, the Digital Economy Bill, with all its myriad problems, was pushed through - after the election was declared. Without full debate and scrutiny, and in the face of huge public opposition," he said.

"Now, the same people that bypassed democracy want your vote. Seems like the Digital Economy Bill is for a generation a sign that politicians are out of touch and unable to understand our values."

The act was passed by 189 votes to 47, meaning that under half off all MPs even bothered to turn up to vote on the contentious issue.

They were too busy kissing babies we assume.

MPs may be out of touch with what their voters want, but according to the UK Pirate Party, the Bill becoming Law was always fated to happen.

"In truth," said Philip Hunt, spokesman for the UK Pirate Party, "the strategy for waiting for a measure such as the DE Bill to be proposed, and then campaigning against it, was always likely to fail in the long term, because even if the bill had failed, the corporate interests behind it would have resurrected the proposals in a different guise." µ



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