UK Digital Economy Bill Nearing Finish Line in House of Lords

In two days, the UK Digital Economy Bill will reach the report stage. This is the second to last step before clearing the House of Lords.

Tensions are rising in the UK. In two days time, the Digital Economy Bill will reach the report stage in the House of Lords.

One of the features that has caused controversy is the provisions around file-sharing. The Open Rights Group is currently running a campaign that warns that the provisions contained in the bill would permit authorities to send potential file-sharers to prison for 10 years.

One of the major concerns is the idea that copyright trolls could threaten ordinary file-sharers (or whoever happens to be on the receiving end of a threatening letter) with the prison term unless they pay a fine without going to court. From the Open Rights Group:

Copyright trolls could threaten ordinary Internet users with 10 years in prison if the Government’s Digital Economy Bill goes through unchanged.

The Bill criminalises minor copyright infringement. The Government says they only want to increase the penalties for activities like running websites that help people download copyright works. But that’s not what the proposed legislation says.

The offence criminalises infringements where money hasn’t been paid or there is a “risk of loss” – which means nearly anything published online without permission could attract a jail sentence. It could be filesharing, or reusing a Disney character in a gif.

The Government has now been told in Parliament twice that they risk helping copyright trolls.

The organization is hoping to continue a letter writing campaign to stop these provisions from making it into law.

While concerns are being raised outside the halls of government, these concerns seem to be largely ignored on the inside of government. According to the Hansard, there appears to be no mention about concerns for copyright or file-sharing.

What there is is debate surrounding another controversial aspect: forcing websites to adhere to a strict age-verification system if they deal with explicit material. Such concerns have also been raised about what this means for innovation and small business. According to KitGuru, a company known as Porn for Geeks says the bill will kill British business. From the report:

Age gating is something that no site has ever been able to effectively do, which is what has so many people concerned. Harriet Sugarcookie is too, but doesn’t have to be. While her industry friends back in Blightey will certainly be affected, The “Porn for Geeks” producer is, funnily enough, likely to benefit from the bill, should it be signed into law.

“My business partner has looked into the business side of this more than I have and he feels it could be a brilliant business opportunity, assuming all sites are treated the same,” she said to KitGuru. “Only larger sites like ours will be able to afford to comply. Smaller sites may not have the technical skill or they may not have the money.”

“Government regulation generally makes markets less competitive so why would porn be any different?”

As for where the bill stands now, there appears to be a mere two steps left before it reaches Royal Assent. The bill needs to go through third reading in the House of Lords before amendments will be considered by both parts of government. There is still a time window for British citizens to raise their concerns, but that window is already beginning to close.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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