The U.K. music industry and the IFPI have welcomed the passing of the Digital Economy Bill through parliament.
The legislation including anti-piracy measures was rushed through the Commons - to the concern of some MPs, Internet Service Providers and campaign groups - and it received royal assent in the House of Lords today (April 8) shortly before the prorogation ceremony.
Parliament has been dissolved for a general election on May 6 so many Bills were rushed through in the "wash-up" process, where opposing parties make deals on which parts of the legislation will stay.
While some elements of the broad Digital Economy Bill were left out, the anti-piracy measures did get through. Under the legislation, those suspected by rights holders of illegal downloading will be sent letters by Internet Service Providers. And after a year, telecoms regulator Ofcom can decide, based on the impact of letter-writing on overall levels of illegal file-sharing in the U.K, whether to trigger additional technical measures and possible suspension of Internet accounts.
However, the next government must still consult with industry and allow parliamentary scrutiny on a specific clause that would enable the secretary of state to approve the blocking of copyright-infringing Web sites, after a court ruling. This "super affirmative procedure" was used to help persuade MPs to vote through the Bill last night (April 7).
Many had doubted the government's ability to get the legislation through but it was one of the final pieces of business in the Lords today. It remains to be seen if the next government will enact those Web site-blocking measures as planned, while some MPs believe the rushed passage of the Bill could lead to flaws in the overall legislation.
Nevertheless, the music industry, which has campaigned on the issue for years, welcomed the passage of the Bill and will begin working with Internet Service Providers.
"The Act's measures to reduce illegal downloading will spur on investment in new music and innovation in legal business models," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor. "An Internet that rewards taking creative risks will mean more British bands enjoying global success, more choice in how to access music online, and more jobs in our fast-growing creative sector. These measures will not eliminate all piracy, but they will go a long way towards reducing illegal freeloading and will help to build a more sustainable ecosystem for content on the Internet."
He added: "We are acutely aware that music fans are at the heart of our business as it embraces the digital age. Hand-in-hand with the new measures, we will continue to expand the exciting range of legal services that offer vast catalogs of music to stream or download and which reward artists for their work. We will underpin this with industry initiatives, such as the recently launched Music Matters campaign, to raise awareness of these offerings with U.K. consumers.
"We will now work diligently with other stakeholders, including ISPs and Ofcom, to develop the Code of Practice that will bring the Act into effect."
Umbrella trade body U.K. Music said the approval of the Bill will enable the U.K. business to build and develop a world class digital market.
"We acknowledge that the real work begins now - both in terms of developing a Code of Practice with industry partners and Ofcom, cooperating with Internet Service Providers, and by opening up even more legitimate ways for fans to enjoy the music and creativity that they love," said chief executive Feargal Sharkey in a statement.
The IFPI said that governments around the world should take note of the U.K.'s actions.
"The passing of the Digital Economy Act in the UK recognizes that if a country is to have world-class creative industries, then it also needs laws that will effectively protect their rights from the crippling problem of digital piracy," said chairman and CEO John Kennedy. "The new U.K. legislation is a decisive step towards dealing with P2P and other forms of illegal distribution in a way that can substantially reduce the problem. Most importantly, it recognizes that Internet Service Providers have an essential role to play in curbing online piracy and reducing infringements on their networks."
He added: "The move by the U.K. creates momentum for the graduated response approach to tackling piracy internationally. Governments increasingly understand that, in the digital economy, creative industries like music, film, books and games can drive growth and jobs for many years to come if they are provided with the right legal environment and with a modern system of enforcement in which ISPs actively cooperate.
"The U.K. has today joined the ranks of those countries who have taken decisive and well-considered steps to address the issue. We hope this will prompt more focus and urgency for similar measures in other countries where debate is underway."