If your teenager is one of the millions who downloads music or films – or books – without paying for them, perhaps you should be worried. The Digital Economy Bill has its second reading in the House of Commons this week. If – as seems likely – it’s passed, file-sharers who repeatedly offend could be cut off from access to the internet. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be expected to issue CIRs to offenders – written notices that they are acting illegally. ISPs will also have to keep anonymised records of how often an individual subscriber has been accused of copyright violations, maintain a list of the worst alleged offenders, and provide copyright owners with the list of names and addresses on request.
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills estimates “several millions” of CIRs will issued annually, adding a layer of cost to ISPs.
The Bill also allows for pirate websites to be blocked by government, if “serious adverse effect on businesses or consumers” could be demonstrated, along with evidence that “a substantial amount of material has been, is being or is likely to be made available in infringement of copyright”.
Some MPs expressed concern at the speed with which the Bill was being pushed through, but the government is clearly keen to have this as a last piece of legislation before the election. Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw (pictured) acknowledged that the Bill was being rushed through, but emphasised that the proposals had been “subject to full public consultation and rigorous scrutiny by the relevant select committees of both houses”.
He urged MPs to “recognise … the potential damage to our digital economy and our creative industries” that failure to pass the Bill would cause, and warned that “hundreds of millions of pounds a year is haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file-sharing”.
Liberal Democrat MD Don Foster said the Bill would have support from the LIberal Democrats subject to conditions, including further scrutiny of the measures to block internet access and the exemption of universities, libraries and small businesses.
Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt said that the Conservatives reserved the right to review the legislation should they win the election. Though he described the Bill as a “weak, dithering and incompetent attempt to breathe life into Britain’s digital economy”, he accepted that legislation was “urgently needed to protect jobs”.
Over 20,000 members of the public have signed a petition against the Bill as it stands, and protesters, co-ordinated by the Open Rights group, have taken out advertisements in today’s Times and Guardian. They acknowledge that “copyright is an important and complicated issue” but say that “making new laws in a hurry is likely to make the situation worse not better.” TalkTalk, which has opposed the Bill from the beginning, has argued that it could cost consumers up to £300 million, as they may need to upgrade their networks’ security to avoid prosecution because the Bill places the onus on network users to make sure that their networks are not being used for illegal activity.
While no legislation in such a complicated and evolving area is likely to be perfect, Nosy Crow supports legislation that discourages piracy and illegal file-sharing, as it believes it to be in the interests of authors, illustrators and publishers. Text, pictures, music, film and animation are all subject to copyright, and that fundamental recognition that what you create is your property is at the heart of the remuneration of creative people and the financial viability of the publishing industry.