Digital Economy Bill
Better than nothing but still short of the mark
Poorly understood Digital Economy Bill could hamper UK PLC
The Cloud Industry Forum has cautiously welcomed the passing of the Digital Economy Bill, which went through Final Stage Reading in the House of Commons. It is now back in the House of Lords for Final Reading, before it passes into law. But it comes with a health warning, according to CIF Chairman, Andy Burton.
"This Bill is better than nothing but we are concerned that many of the provisions of the Bill have not yet been thought through, debated and scrutinised in any great detail. Pushing the Bill through Parliament in the dying days of a Government is far from ideal and could harm UK Plc in the future."
"As an industry we naturally support any activity that promotes the legal protection of intellectual property rights and a framework in which we can build a healthy environment for the growth and success of digital businesses. But our concerns lie in the fact that this Act could introduce more ambiguity and potential unforeseen liabilities that may in fact hinder the British entrepreneurial spirit online," he added.
It has been announced that the next Parliament will be able to study the most contentious aspects of the Bill before they are enacted and there will be an extended period of public consultation.
"The so-called Wash-Up period accelerated the law-making process from weeks to a day or two and that cannot be right in terms of democracy and it certainly cannot be right when Parliament is supposed to be delivering a legislative framework for the digital future of the country," he added.
"It is our contention that this could have the potential to be a 'bad' law, one that cannot be free of unintended consequences. Crucially the new Act cannot guarantee false accusations of illegal file-sharing," he continued.
"At its heart lies the issue of our economic recovery and our desire to be a global hub in the digital economy of the future. The one thing service providers do not need right now as we face an increasingly competitive global market, as the internet has no true national boundary, is more red tape and compliance costs. It is as if the Government has overlooked the fact that the Internet - and its provision - is global by nature."
"The question that needs answering is whether this piece of legislation will protect the interests of UK businesses who compete in a global online market? Only time will tell if it fosters our innovative spirit or stifles it on a global stage," added Andy.
The new Act will put in place a system for limiting or suspending the Internet connections of those suspected of unlawful file-sharing.
There had been mounting public opposition to the bill, particularly the plans to give Ofcom the power to cut off the internet connections of persistent pirates.
Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw attempted to reassure MPs in the Second Reading that such measures would not be introduced for another year, and said he hoped a letter campaign to persistent net pirates would prove sufficient.
"Let us be clear: this Bill was about preparing the UK for the future. What it looks like now is a piece of legislation that could potentially hinder our competitive position and stifle economic innovation," concluded Andy.