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MPs pass Digital Economy Bill

Controversial act rushed through pre-election wash-up

By Steve Evans

The Digital Economy Bill (DEB) was passed in the House of Commons last night after its third reading, following just two hours of debate.

The act aims to boost the UK’s digital economy but contains a number of controversial proposals which have been widely criticised and opposed. Included in these proposals are methods to reduce levels of online piracy of copyrighted materials such as films and music. One proposed law would enable ISPs to suspend the account of repeat file-sharers, while another would give the government the power to block websites containing copyrighted material.

This controversial proposal, clause 18, has been dropped from the final Bill in an attempt to appease so of the act’s critics. Clause 43, which proposed extending the licensing of orphaned copyrighted works, was dropped, as was the proposed 50p Broadband tax.

The Bill was voted through by a majority of 189 votes to 47. MPs had been criticised for failing to give the Bill enough discussion time in Parliament. Its second reading, on Tuesday evening, attracted just 40 MPs, although at one point just 15 MPs were in the chamber. Last night’s debated lasted just under two hours before the Bill was voted through.

The Bill was rushed through what is known as the wash-up, when acts are pressed through Parliament during the period between the calling of a general election and the vote taking place. Labour struck a deal with the Conservative party to gain much-needed support for the DEB before the vote, although a number of MPs from across all parties voiced concern about the Bill.

Conservative MP John Redwood wrote on his blog: “The Digital Economy Bill had been 13 years in the making. Apparently over those 13 years they had discovered how important the creative industries are, and how they need new regulation. The government against all precedents decided to hold a second reading of a major new bill after announcing the end of the Parliament! The bill in its current form is ill thought through, badly drafted, and will have unpredictable consequences.”

The Open Rights Group has been one of the most vocal opponents of the DEB. Its director Jim Killock said: “This Bill is the victim of one of the worst lobbying scandals of this Parliament. Over 20,000 voters have written to MPs and raised funds for adverts, because we know disconnection of families for allegations of copyright infringement is a draconian punishment, and need to be fully debated, not rammed through at the last minute.”

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