Several high-profile internet companies, including Google, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo! Europe, have sent an open letter to Britain's Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, opposing new legislation which they say risks harming the value of copyright and "stifling innovation."

The Digital Economy Bill, which proposes 'three-strike' legislation to tackle file-sharing, was published last month, following an announcement in the Queen's Speech on Nov. 18 and was widely welcomed by the U.K. music industry (Billboard.biz, Nov. 20).

However, not all media companies reacted warmly to the bill, with Charles Dunstone, chief executive of Carphone Warehouse -- which owns U.K. ISP Talk Talk -- emerging as a vocal critic of the legislative measures proposed, particularly the introduction of internet suspension for repeat copyright infringers.

To coincide with the bill's second reading in the House of Lords, representatives from Google, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo! Europe sent an open letter yesterday (Dec. 2) to Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Lord Mandelson urging the U.K government to "remove Clause 17 from the bill."

Clause 17 was a controversial late addition to the bill, which, if passed, critics say allows any future Secretary of State the power to freely amend the Copyright, Design and Patent Act 1988.

"We want to express our grave concerns regarding the inclusion of measures, which risk stifling innovation and damaging the Government's vision for a Digital Britain," says the letter, which is signed by Bay U.K. head of public affairs Alasdair McGowan, Facebook director of policy (Europe) Richard Allan, Yahoo! U.K. & Ireland director, public & social policy Emma Ascroft and Google U.K. policy manager Sarah Hunter.

The letter goes on to say that all parties "strongly share the Government's belief" for an open Internet "offering consumers the broadest range of innovative services" with a "shared respect for copyright" key to its success.

"We fear, however, that the unexpected new clauses of the Digital Economy Bill will hinder, rather than contribute to, the Government's vision," the letter adds, citing Clause 17 as opening the way for arbitrary measures such as introducing "additional technical measures or increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place."

According to the signatories, "this clause is so wide that it could put at risk legitimate consumer use of current technology as well as future developments." The letter concludes with a claim that "Clause 17 creates uncertainty for consumers and businesses and puts at risk the U.K.'s leading position in a digital Europe."

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