The controversial Digital Economy Bill has passed its third reading in the House of Commons, meaning that subject to a few finalities, it is set to become UK law. The bill was passed with 189 votes in favour, and 47 votes against, attracting support from both Labour and Conservative MPs (you can see the full list of how the MPs voted here).

The bill covers a wide range of aspects of the law to do with technology, including the switchover to digital radio and the role of TV's Channel 4, but it has become most well known for its attempts to deal with online copyright infringement as well as making changes to how games will be classified. The Digital Economy Bill will force the UK to adopt the European PEGI rating system for games, despite recommendations from the Byron Report that the BBFC, the body which oversees film classification, is more suitable.

The Digital Economy Bill includes a number of different measures to fight against piracy, imposing obligations on ISPs to reduce its prevalence. The bill imposes two obligations on ISPs - if a rights holder tells the ISP its users are infringing copyright, it has to notify those users, and it must record the number of times its users have been notified, and in turn make this data available to rights holders.

Initially, this list will be anonymous, but, as the Government's summary of the bill puts it: "this would allow the rights holder to apply for a court order to get access to the name and address of serious repeat infringers in order to prioritise legal action against them. This will be the first time that rights holders have been able to target action in this way, and will enable them to protect their copyright with the assurance that it is the infringers that they have identified as causing most damage who will face the consequences."

That's not all. The Secretary of State will be able to direct Ofcom to tell the ISPs to use technical measures - such as bandwidth capping or
temporary suspension - to achieve the government's overall objective of a substantial reduction in online piracy. The bill makes it clear ISPs will be legally obliged to comply.

The summary says that "suspension will be a last resort and the Government has no expectation of mass suspensions resulting... [and] underpinning all of this will be a clear and effective appeals mechanism." You'll be able to appeal to an independent body set up by Ofcom, and the Government would like to remind you that "of course all of this will only happen after the subscriber has had clear and ample warning that their account appears to have been used to infringe copyright, and been given advice on where they can obtain content lawfully and how they can protect their Internet connection against misuse."

Many commentators have been critical of the bill's broad scope, its hazy definitions and the fact it is being pushed through in a period known as the "wash-up" - the end of the current parliamentary session (as Parliament will soon be on recess for the General Election) when bills typically don't receive much debate time. The readings of the bill in the House of Commons were poorly attended and the standard of debate infuriated many. Some MPs displayed a woeful grasp of the technical issues, while others repeated questionable statistics from industry bodies (such as that old lie which assumes every pirated copy of a work is equivalent to a lost sale, or conflating copyright infringement with property theft).

You can read more about the Digital Economy Bill over at the official Parliament site. Let us know your thoughts in the forums. Better yet, get involved with the process - if you live in the UK, make sure you're registered to vote, find out about your local MP and ask the questions relevant to you when your MP wants your vote.

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