Anti-piracy laws passed: 'Fears of wave of censorship' raised

Summary:The controversial anti-piracy legislation has been passed. The UK will now have a governmentally controlled' web censorship system. Bad news

Post updated - 7th April 2010, 00:42 BST: Please see below at the end of this post for full updates. (It's bad news, by the way).

It's politics day here on the iGeneration blog. The general election has been set as May 6th and today is the last seating of Parliament before the Queen dissolves it on Monday morning. Campaigning has begun, and the Prime Minister has set off on his travels to canvas for votes with the other respective political parties on their own campaign trail.

Though today is no ordinary day. Today is the last day of full governmental control - and with that, legislation that has been sitting on the Parliamentary desks for weeks on end has been dusted off, handed to the clerks and is now, basically, being rushed through the Commons by the end of the working day.

The Digital Economy Bill is the most controversial piece of legislation on the cards today and is set to be debated later on this evening. The bill, covered quite extensively on this blog, will give the state and government to tell ISP's to disable and suspend broadband and Internet accounts of users through a three-strike system of copyright infringement; in a nutshell, admittedly.

There were a number of upsides to this bill, allowing the government to create a £6 tax (around $10) a year to every household in the UK with a landline phone - including student addresses - to help fund a nationwide rollout of at least 2MB broadband. It would have also allowed Ofcom, the UK's independent regulatory body for communications, to have greater power to ensure the consumer got the best deal and weren't being screwed by their technology provider.

But because it is the last day of Parliament before the general election, the thick black marker pen has stricken through whole chunks of the bill to make it not only easier for the majority of backing MP's to support and vote for the bill - to ensure it becomes actual legislation - while marginalising MP's who don't want the bill to become law.

The Guardian with the help from @jaggeree and @sarahkatenorman have posted a web application which allows you to check by postcode whether your MP showed up to the second (amended) reading of the Digital Economy Bill. Suffice to say, when you read on, you will discover very few attended at all.

The main bulk of the bill - the anti-pirate and file sharing methods - will remain as part of this act. It is fair to say that the British public are rather annoyed at this, let alone the student generation of which this legislation will hit the most.

On a far more visual level, as @scottisafool posted on TwitPic last night, not many did.

Now, I'd love to give my full and frank, uncensored and probably biased opinion but that would involve a lot of swearing and the smashing of plates and other crockery around the house. The problem here is simple.

The Digital Economy Bill is vehemently opposed, not only by the opposing political parties but the wider state and citizens in general. Twitter and Facebook has gone crazy in the last few weeks in an effort to mount pressure on the government to oppose or at least reconsider or further the debate into these measures.

But our representatives do not listen; instead, the focus is on the money saved by the music industry and the wider picture to enable the political elements to saddle up to the corporations for their own mutual gain.

Then again, think of the wider public influence. A million people demonstrated in London in one day alone to oppose the war in Iraq. Nearly half a million people demonstrated in London in one day to oppose the ban on fox hunting. We still invaded Iraq, and fox hunting is still banned.

The general election has not come soon enough for many. The present government isn't listening to its own citizens, let alone the massive student population.

- - -

Post updated - 7th April 2010, 00:42 BST:

The bill has been passed with 189 saying yes, 47 saying no. The bill will very likely become law through Royal Ascent tomorrow, if not at least before the dissolution of Parliament on 12th April. Based on the live feed from The Guardian which has documented the full event, we have as follows:

  • Clause 43 was removed. This would have allowed the use of works of which no copyright owner could be found. This had upsides and downsides, and photo sharing websites could have been affected.
  • Clause 18 was removed and has been replaced by a new clause. This means the government, in particular the Business Secretary to the Cabinet, can force ISP's into blocking content or access to websites which host illegally copyrighted material. But as ZDNet UK points out, sites such as Wikileaks can now be blocked to UK citizens. A court must approve these on an individual, case by case basis. This could mean that a new wave of censorship could roll across the UK. It also means that torrent sites could be blocked by the government through forcing ISP's to restrict access to them, including restricting access to other downloadable content. If say, a Rapidshare file is considered copyright and reported as so, the site linking to the download could face being blocked off to the British public.
  • Clause 4 through to 17 resolves that if users are caught downloading copyright infringed material, the copyright owners must inform the ISP with evidence within the month. ISP's must respond with details confirming the fact if need be. More regulation is needed to confirm exactly the further steps needed by the ISP, such as applying technical measures to the broadband account of the accused. Also, Ofcom must produce reports every three and twelve months on the extent and breadth of copyright infringement and consult on whether these debated actions are having any effect.
  • Clause 41 resolves that games that "include violence to humans or animals, encouragement of criminality" along with the usual drug use, encouragement alcohol and tobacco use,  and swearing will fall under the Video Recordings Act 1984. This may mean that games such as Grand Theft Auto may be banned or severely restricted to ensure that kids don't get their hands on them.
  • Clause 44 resolves that the maximum penalty for criminally making or distributing copyright infringed material is £50,000 (around $76,000), though Clause 45 means that libraries which lend material of copyrighted material such as e-books and audiobooks are free from prosecution or legality.

Also for additional information:

  • This process was part of the "wash up", the part between the announcement of the end of Parliament and the actual end of Parliament, to rush through the last bits of legislation where possible.
  • Chris Marsden, senior law lecturer at the University of Essex calls this bill an "an absolute insult to Parliament, to Internet users, and to democracy."
  • This page shows an interesting comparison. 1 bill, 643 MP's (this is debated, funnily enough), 20,000 letters written, and only 40 bothered to turn up to vo'te. This is suspected due to the party whips who have told many to stay away or fear the consequences in attempt to get the bill through. It worked.
  • ZDNet UK also has coverage which might be useful.
  • Similarly, this post gives a brief outline of every section of the bill, including the bits that have been taken out.
  • As The Guardian points out in its updated, summation of the live blog, Google could in theory be blocked. There is nothing stopping the government and the courts now, that is if this becomes law in the next couple of days (it's passed the hard part, frankly, so we're talking about "when" rather than "if").
  • Yet another Guardian article published (you can never have too much clarification) outlines specific areas of what the bill means and what will change. It's a useful read; I'd recommend it.

In a nutshell, this will most likely become law by Monday morning. It means that any site, domain, website or server in the world could be blocked off by a non-jury court order as a result of the government's actions, to all members of the UK population, if the aforementioned is deemed to contain or link to copyrighted material. This means Wikileaks, this means CBS, or this means any random personal blog on Blogspot, or it could also mean Google could be blocked as and when the government wishes.

Welcome to the United Kingdom, where freedom of speech is no longer accepted.

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Topics: Broadband, Browser, Government, Government : US, Networking, Telcos

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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