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Digital 'Stitch-Up' Causes Controversy

Digital 'Stitch-Up' Causes Controversy

The plan to cut off persistent pirates has proved controversial

Ministers have been accused of a "stitch-up" to pass laws cracking down on digital piracy before the election.

MPs voiced anger at attempts to rush through the digital economy bill aimed at supporting artists' copyright and tackle illegal file-sharing.

Former minister Tom Watson said it would be a "catastrophic disaster" if the bill went through as constituted.

However, the bill was approved by MPs by a majority of 142 votes and will now pass to the Lords for final approval.

The legislation is one of more than 10 bills being considered by parliamentarians in the "wash-up period" - the remaining time before the legislature is dissolved.

'Repercussions'

Under the terms of the bill, internet service providers will be obliged to send letters to any of their subscribers linked to alleged infringements.

Copyright holders will be able to apply for a court order to gain access to the names and addresses of serious infringers and take action against them while ISPs would be able to suspend accounts of offenders.

Mr Watson expressed concern this could lead to innocent internet users being caught simply since they lived in the same building as infringers.

"There might be a deal with the Tory front bench and the Lib Dem front bench but there are 20,000 people who have taken the time to e-mail their MPs about this in the last seven days alone," Mr Watson said of the proposals.

"They are extremely upset that this bill will not have the scrutiny it deserves and requires."

Labour MP Kate Hoey said the bill could be pushed through by a "stitch-up" between leaders of the three main parties.

And she added: "The reality is out there, the ordinary person who has only begun, many of them, to realise the repercussions of this bill are going to feel totally let down by Parliament."

Ministers have already made a number of concessions in order to assuage the concerns of MPs.

Restrictions on the activities of persistent copyright offenders will not come into force for a year and only on the basis of clear evidence of their activities.

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.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said the legislation struck the right balance between giving creative artists more protection and giving consumers a "fair deal".

"Hundreds of millions of pounds every year is currently haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file-sharing.

"This is not a harmless or victimless activity. It deprives our musicians, writers and film makers and other artists of their livelihoods and if we don't do something about it, it will pose a serious threat to our creative sectors and Britain's in them."

The Conservatives said the bill, as it stood, was an "Amstrad" when "we wanted an IPod".

For the Lib Dems, Don Foster said it was a "disgrace" that a bill of such complexity was being given so little time for debate.


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