In the lead-up to the election, one bill more than any other sparked controversy and debate as it was rushed through parliament this month. The Digital Economy Bill includes clauses which will tighten the regulation on video games and monitor the output of independent broadcaster Channel 4, but this isn’t what’s caused internet uproar. More specifically, the clauses relating to piracy and copyright infringement are being hotly contested by spectators throughout the country.
In a nutshell, the new laws mean that any internet user can be tracked by their service provider. If they are caught repeatedly infringing copyright this can, in the first instance, result in a short-term suspension of their connection. The bill makes file-sharers and illegal downloaders more criminally culpable, and could lead to fines of up to £50,000. It’s good news for copyright holders but bad for internet user privacy, and could cost service providers up to £500 million to implement.
Big-brother tactics aside, this mish-mash of a bill hardly speaks well for the democratic process. Rather than the lengthy, drawn-out debates and re-readings a bill usually requires before becoming law, the Digital Economy Act was rushed through before the close of parliament in a shambolic fashion. Despite over 15,000 letters being sent in protest, ministers collectively showed little interest in the bill in its earlier stages, and when what should have taken weeks of discussion was condensed into a short debate it was pitifully attended. Website debillitated.heroku.com has compiled the statistics, revealing that of the 643 members of parliament, 189 voted yes, 47 voted no, and 64% didn’t vote at all. Of those members who actually voted, 187 arrived after the final debate.
There are many who oppose the bill, including internet service provider Talk Talk, who are refusing to disconnect internet users or give out their details should they be suspected of copyright infringement, as well as those who fear a state where the accused are guilty until proven innocent of piratical activities. Whether or not you agree with its content, the way in which a bill the people cared about but their elected representatives didn’t has been forced into law as quickly as possible surely raises questions about our current parliamentary system.