Tories nudge Digital Economy Bill through second reading

The Digital Economy Bill is on track to become law after the Tories offered the controversial legislation their support during its second reading.

Tories nudge Digital Economy Bill through second reading

The wide-ranging bill allows for the internet connections of illegal file-sharers to be suspended and copyright-infringing websites to be blocked. It will now head to the “wash-up” period, allowing the Government to rush the bill through before the election.

In a sparsely attended debate, several MPs called for the bill to be delayed until after the election, before Conservative shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt offered the legislation his reluctant support.

There are parts of the bill that we will reluctantly let through. (The digital economy bill) could have been massively improved if there had been more scrutiny at the committee stage

“[The digital economy bill] could have been massively improved if there had been more scrutiny at the committee stage,” Hunt told MPs.

“There are parts of the bill that we will reluctantly let through. Digital piracy is a very real problem for our creative industries, and we do accept that action needs to be taken to ensure the internet is a functioning marketplace and that copyright infringers do not get away with their actions scot free.”

However, Hunt claimed that should the Conservatives win the election they would revisit the bill to ensure “proper safeguards” were in place.

In an effort to quell dissent before the debate, Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons, revealed that following the general election, controversial elements of the bill – including Clause 18, which grants rights-holders the power to force ISPs to block websites hosting pirated content – would be subject to super affirmative process.

Super affirmative process would open up these elements to further Parliamentary scrutiny and public debate. The Liberal Democrats argued this should be extended to the issue of public Wi-Fi. Under the current legislation anybody offering public Wi-Fi connections is responsible for the content downloaded on those networks.

“The choice we have is to act on unlawful downloading or not to act,” said Digital Britain Minister Stephen Timms. “That is the choice the House needs to make. I think there is actually very broad agreement across the House about the need for us to act in the way that this Bill sets out.”

Critics of the bill are demanding it be re-evaluated in its entirety during the next parliament. “This bill is the victim of one of the worst lobbying scandals of this parliament,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

“Parliamentary scrutiny must be applied. 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,” he concluded.

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