HOPES for a last minute reprieve from “draconian” new anti privacy legislation appeared to fade yesterday as the government’s Digital Economy Bill (DEB) passed through to “wash-up.”
This means the bill, which contains some heavily debated elements, enters a period where legislation is rushed through in the gap between Parliament being dissolved and a new government being formed.
An internet campaign with more than 20,000 signatures emerged yesterday before the bill was due to be debated in the commons, centring around anger over a clause that could force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to cut off users suspected of file sharing.
The scene was set for a heated debate but ended up fizzling out as only a handful of MPs turned up to debate the issue. The bill will face a further round of debate this afternoon but will almost certainly be brought into law.
However, key elements of the bill will be revisited, including the ability of copyright holders to block websites that contain pirated material.
The bill has also been toned down and will include a waiting period before users can be cut off. It will also insist letters are sent to those identified as being involved in piracy before punitive action is taken.
Some MPs called for the whole debate to be rescheduled, with one suggesting the bill be scrapped in favour of a new digital copyright bill.
The DEB, which has received support from high profile artists including Lily Allen and James Blunt, was designed to protect the rights of content providers.
It was tentatively backed by the Tories and Lib Dems but faced criticism from Labour MPs. The Tories also vowed they would not privatise Channel 4 if elected but would ditch plans to give Ofcom more power.
If one person is to be credited with hardening up the Digital Economy Bill it is Universal Music’s Lucian Grainge. At one point during the negotiations over the framing of the Bill it looked as if the government would stop short of disconnecting known pirates. But Grainge, who passionately believes that piracy costs Britain's creative industries more than £1bn a year and could decimate the music industry, personally convinced Lord Mandelson that tougher measures were necessary. The lifelong music executive, who moves to New York shortly to take the top job at Universal, was part of a committee that included Sky's Jeremy Darroch, Channel 4's Andy Duncan, the Premier League's Richard Scudamore and Virgin Media's Neil Berkett. Grainge is adamant that illegal filesharing needs to be dealt with unless the UK wants to end up like Sweden where Universal and others have stopped investing in new talent.
The music industry, including live music, production and distribution, employs 125,000 people in the UK, generating over £300m just in annual VAT receipts alone. Continued tolerance of piracy, believes Grainge, could throw it all away.
TalkTalk’s director of strategy has been the bill’s most vehement critic, vowing to fight it in the courts if his firm is told to throw its users off the internet.
He says he will continue to fight the legislation until significant amendments have been made.
He urged customers in the UK to “continue to make their voices heard” despite the apparent setback yesterday.
He responded with a rousing battle cry: “We restate our pledges to our customers. Unless we are served with a court order we will not surrender your details to rightsholders – we are the only major ISP to have taken this stance and we will maintain it. We will continue to fight this draconian legislation as it makes its way through Parliament. And if we are instructed to disconnect your account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rightsholders we’ll see them in court.”
He welcomed a number of concessions on the wording of the bill which mean that before disconnection could come into force there will be a 12-month gap, and that there will be more scrutiny from MPs in the next Parliament before web blocking is allowed to happen.