Digital Britain bill now likely to pass into law

8 Apr 2010

Britain’s digital economy bill has passed the third reading in the House of Commons meaning it is now likely to pass into law. Last minute changes focused on tackling piracy.

The controversial Digital Britain Bill was passed by 189 votes to 47 at the third reading last night.

One of the stumbling blocks was the treatment of content piracy and a compromise had been reached whereby internet service providers (ISPs) would have to notify subscribers of alleged copyright infringements. If the piracy continues, the ISPs would then implement technical measures such as traffic shaping, slow speeds or account suspension.

Powers to block copyright infringing sites under the controversial Clause 18 have been moved to an amendment in Clause 8 which allows the UK Secretary of State for business to order the blocking of a location on the internet that a court is satisfied has been or continue to be infringing copyright.

The amended bill has dropped a clause greater power to UK communications watchdog Ofcom, along with a plan to enable the replacement of ITV regional news bulletins across the UK.

In a separate finance bill the proposed 50p monthly tax on landlines to pay for a minimum national 2Mbps speed was also dropped in the Commons.

Ofcom will now have its reporting obligations extended to cover TV, radio, on demand services, and certain websites to show how they contribute to public service objectives. It has already agreed to jointly regulate video-on-demand (VOD) content with the industry body ATVOD.

Ofcom must also now report on copyright infringements on a three-monthly basis. ISP subscribers who will initially receive a warning letter face having their accounts suspended if it can be shown that they downloaded content in breach of copyright.

ISPs who fail to comply will themselves face fines of up to stg£250,000.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years