MPs are set to debate the controversial Digital Economy Bill today in the House of Commons, addressing government proposals to cut off users accessing pirated content, and to block the websites concerned.
As politicians await the 3.30 pm debate, which could run until 10pm tonight, the war of words between content owners and open rights campaigners is heating up fast.
New proposals that emerged last week, if approved, would allow ministers to permit injunctions that block websites illegally offering a “substantial amount” of material that is under copyright. The aim of the move is to protect the revenues of content owners and creators, but the proposed blocking of sites has been met by strong protests in the interests of freedom of speech.
The Open Rights Group, which campaigns for digital rights, today placed advertisements in the Times and Guardian newspapers, as well as on Facebook, calling for a “proper debate” on the bill. It said that following a campaign to its supporters, nearly 21,000 people had emailed their MPs to express their “concerns” about the proposed changes, which could see “up to a million homes, schools and libraries” cut off or threatened with legal action.
The government has also been accused of attempting to secretly rush through the legislation before this spring’s general election. The change, if approved, would take place without primary legislation and would follow a public consultation. It is expected that the move would allow ministers the final say on any website being blocked.
The Open Rights Group said this indicated ministers were attempting to “fast track” the bill into law “before the general election, sidestepping debate and opposition”. It recognised the issue of protecting copyright as “important”, it said, but added that it was too complex to be rushed through into law.
Meanwhile the Creative Coalition Campaign, formed from trade unions the Writers Guild, the Musicians Union, Unite, Bectu and Equity, placed a full page ad in the same papers. It insisted that opponents of the bill had conducted a campaign that “distorted the truth”.
The CCC said the measures were “sensible” and were needed to tackle illegal file sharing “on a vast scale”, which threatened up to 250,000 jobs in the UK. It said those illegally sharing files would be treated more fairly under the proposed arrangements than “the current sanction of court actions” for damages.
Talk Talk, the broadband provider, has reiterated its opposition to the bill, telling the Daily Telegraph newspaper that it could cost businesses £300 million for upgraded security to avoid prosecution. The bill states that network owners have the responsibility to stop their networks being used illegallly.