Decade Long Prison Sentences for Filesharers Now Law in UK

In the lead up to the elections in the UK, the government has passed the hugely controversial Digital Economy Bill during wash-up.

It’s a bill that has been a major concern for digital rights activists in the UK. According to the official government website, the Digital Economy Bill has received royal assent.

We’ve been following this bill for the last month as it made its way through the government. During it’s passage through third reading, we discussed many of the controversial elements found in the bill.

One of the most controversial provisions is that people who are caught sharing copyrighted material online could face up to 10 years in prison. There are multiple reason this is concerning for those that believe in civil rights. The first concern is that this is an excessive amount of time in prison for such a minor breach of the law. What’s worse is that copyright trolls can hijack these laws and use them to blackmail unwitting Internet users out of tens of thousands of dollars.

While this was the subject of a massive letter writing campaign organized by the Digital Rights Group, few, if any, politicians raised a concern about this.

Another concern about this legislation is the fact that it would become a massive privacy disaster for users. The reasoning behind it revolves around the provisions surrounding websites that deal with explicit imagery. The laws would force these websites to create specific age verification systems that tracks users movements. If websites operating in the UK don’t comply to this, they’ll be forced to shut down.

A related criticism is that smaller businesses would be forced out of business because they may not have the technical expertise and resources to create such restrictions in the first place. As a result, only the larger players in the industry will remain.

Generally speaking, this bill outside the government halls have been widely seen as being bad all around. While digital rights started to look a little bleak, there was a surprise twist. The UK government called a snap election years before it was due to do so.

Politically, the move altered things a fair bit. The bill went from being something certain to pass to a bill that was racing to beat the clock. If the bill wasn’t passed before the election, then it would die on the order paper. While this breathed new hope that government procedure might put a stop to this threat to user rights, this hope, as we found out, would be short lived. During the quick ping-pong process and wash-up, the bill was quickly ushered through to royal assent with the most controversial elements still intact.

Now that the government has passed this legislation, the question then becomes, what next? After following various interest groups for some time, we honestly still don’t know. Fighting this bill through legal channels isn’t off the table for the time being, but we haven’t seen any clear indications on where things go from here in terms of fighting this bill. For now, though, what we do know is that digital rights took a significant blow and it may be time to assess the circumstances and figure out where to go from here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.


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