Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 17:56 UK

Anger about 'stitch-up' over Digital Economy Bill

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Edited highlights of Wednesday's House of Commons debate that lasted for 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Ministers have been accused of a "stitch-up" to pass laws cracking down on digital piracy before the election.

MPs voiced anger at the digital economy bill - aimed at supporting artists' copyright and tackle illegal file-sharing - being rushed into law.

Former minister Tom Watson had argued it would be a "catastrophic disaster" if the bill was passed as constituted.

However, the bill was approved by MPs by a majority of 142 votes and it passed through the Lords on Thursday.

The legislation was one of more than 10 bills being considered by parliamentarians in the "wash-up period" - the remaining time before the legislature is dissolved.

Parliament was prorogued late on Thursday afternoon, meaning any bills that had not been passed would fail to become law.

'Repercussions'

Under the terms of the Digital Economy Bill, internet service providers will be obliged to send letters to any of their subscribers linked to alleged infringements.

Copyright holders will be able to apply for a court order to gain access to the names and addresses of serious infringers and take action against them while ISPs would be able to suspend accounts of offenders.

Hundreds of millions of pounds every year is currently haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file-sharing
Ben Bradshaw
Culture secretary

Mr Watson had expressed concern this could lead to innocent internet users being caught simply since they lived in the same building as infringers.

"There might be a deal with the Tory front bench and the Lib Dem front bench but there are 20,000 people who have taken the time to e-mail their MPs about this in the last seven days alone," Mr Watson said of the proposals.

"They are extremely upset that this bill will not have the scrutiny it deserves and requires."

Labour MP Kate Hoey complained the bill was being pushed through by a "stitch-up" between leaders of the three main parties.

And she added: "The reality is out there, the ordinary person who has only begun, many of them, to realise the repercussions of this bill are going to feel totally let down by Parliament."

Ministers had made a number of earlier concessions in order to assuage the concerns of MPs.

Rory Cellan-Jones
Combing through Twitter, I found only one apparent supporter of the bill
Rory Cellan-Jones
BBC digital election correspondent

Restrictions on the activities of persistent copyright offenders will not come into force for a year and only on the basis of clear evidence of their activities.

A clause on "orphan works" - material where the author was impossible to identify - was also dropped after opposition from photographers.

Another proposal allowing politicians to block pirate websites without primary legislation was replaced with an amendment which lets ministers "make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction".

Google, which has repeatedly voiced opposition to the plans to block websites, said the bill had "escaped proper scrutiny".

"We absolutely believe in the importance of copyright, but blocking through injunction creates a high risk that legal content gets mistakenly blocked, or that people abuse the system," a spokesman added.

'Not victimless'

The next Parliament will be able to study the most contentious aspects of the bill before they are enacted and there will be an extended period of public consultation.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said the legislation struck the right balance between giving creative artists more protection and giving consumers a "fair deal".

"Hundreds of millions of pounds every year is currently haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file-sharing.

"This is not a harmless or victimless activity. It deprives our musicians, writers and film makers and other artists of their livelihoods and if we don't do something about it, it will pose a serious threat to our creative sectors and Britain's leadership in them."

People are taking someone else's talent, time, effort and ability and not paying for it
Feargal Sharkey
UK Music chief executive

The Conservatives said the bill, as it stood, was an "Amstrad" when "we wanted an IPod".

For the Lib Dems, Don Foster said it was a "disgrace" that a bill of such complexity was being given so little time for debate.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said the legislation was an "an attack on everyone's right to communicate, work and gain an education".

The phone and broadband company Talk Talk said the revised bill was "in much better shape" but still contained "many draconian proposals".

The Pirate Party UK - which campaigns for the legalisation of non-commercial file sharing - said the passage of the bill marked "a sombre day for Britain's digital future".

However, UK Music chief executive Feargal Sharkey - former lead singer with the Undertones - said action was needed to stop pirates.

He told BBC Breakfast: "People are taking someone else's talent, time, effort and ability and not paying for it, and doing it without their permission.

"And quite clearly that's just wrong, and we need to try and do something to stop it."



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