Britain passes tough new internet piracy bill

Britain’s House of Lords has approved a bill allowing the government to shut down illegal file-sharers. Music companies are delighted.

But British Telecom, Google and Facebook aren’t: they think illegal file-sharers should be fined, rather than cut off. Last week, in a letter to the Financial Times, they said the proposed amendment would allow websites to be blocked without cases even reaching a judge.

And human rights groups agree that it’s unacceptable. “The [music industry organization] BPI is waging a war on every citizen in the country by demanding disconnection,” says the Open Rights Group’s Jim Killock.

“Everyone’s rights are being curtailed in the name of their business interests. They are manipulating the political process and distorting the legislation that results.”

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor says the amendment is perfectly reasonable. “Contrary to the claims in the letter, service providers would in every case be able to ensure that the decision as to whether a site should be blocked is made by the High Court,” he said.

“The court would be required to consider the extent of legal content on a website, any impact on human rights, and whether the website removes infringing content when requested.  So the suggestion that the clause would lead to widespread disruption to the internet or threaten freedom of speech is pure scaremongering.” 

The Lords did baulk at one element of the bill a week or so ago, when they refused to give the government the power to change online copyright laws in future willy-nilly, without further legislation.

The Digital Economy Bill is now expected to be rubber-stamped before the general election in May.