Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lords pass controversial internet piracy bill

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Digital Economy Bill: From BBC Democracy Live

Legislation to tackle internet piracy, including bans for illegal file-sharers, has been passed by the Lords.

The Digital Economy Bill is now expected to be rushed through the Commons before the general election.

Peers had earlier rejected a bid by ministers to include wide-ranging powers over future online piracy law.

But despite criticism, the government said it was still committed to giving courts the power to block websites which are infringing copyright.

The bill, put forward by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, has been welcomed by the music industry because it includes plans to suspend the internet accounts of people who persistently download material illegally.

But firms such as British Telecom, Google and Facebook say that would be unfair and illegal file-sharers should be fined instead of cut off.

Earlier this month, peers defeated the government when they rejected a clause giving ministers the power to change laws on online copyright in future without the need for further legislation.

'Unintended consequences'

But their chosen replacement - a measure allowing courts to use injunctions to force internet service providers (ISPs) to block certain websites - also prompted criticism from companies, consumer rights campaigners and academics.

They argued it would lead to "blocking based on accusation rather than a court injunction" and could shut down sites like Google and YouTube.

Liberal Democrat media spokesman Lord Clement-Jones, who led the moves for the replacement clause, offered "clarifications and improvements" during the bill's third reading on Monday evening.

We are calling for massive campaign of citizens to demand that their MPs debate this dangerous bill
Jim Killock
Open Rights Group

He did not, however, put them to the vote.

Instead, junior business minister Lord Young of Norwood Green said the Lib Dem amendment was incompatible with the EU Technical Standards Directive.

He said it would "not be capable of being enforced" and could lead to "unforeseen and unintended consequences".

But Lord Young told peers: "It is our intention to try to bring forward, as the bill moves to the Commons, a clause that would seek to ultimately achieve the same effect."

This would include a power for the secretary of state "to bring forward regulations to achieve the desired effect of site blocking", he added.

And it would allow for "proper consultation and consideration of the evidence for the need and the proportionality of the measure".

Lord Young said his offer was a "sincere and constructive commitment" and he had "tried to address the genuine concerns that have been expressed".

Lord Clement-Jones, while warning of "many a slip between cup and lip", agreed to wait for the government's amendment.

Amendment wording

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said Lord Mandelson was "preparing to rush through this draconian legislation without democratic debate".

"We are calling for massive campaign of citizens to demand that their MPs debate this dangerous bill."

Last week, it emerged that the wording of the Lib Dem amendment was almost identical to a draft written by the BPI, which lobbies on behalf of the British music industry.

The BPI said opposition parties "saw it as a good framework for what they wanted to put down" .

Chief executive Geoff Taylor welcomed the bill's passing, adding: "It is vital for the future of the UK's creative sector that the Digital Economy Bill is adopted."

But Andrew Robinson, from Pirate Party UK, which campaigns on the issue, said: "The public will not respect a law that was quite literally written by the record industry, for the record industry.

"As it stands, the bill is fatally flawed, and fundamentally unjust."



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