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U.K.’s Digital Economy Bill Introduced, Would Allow Retransmission Fees

The bill will also will "protect children from online pornography by requiring age verification" and bring sentences for people who violate copyright laws online into line with physical infringement.

The U.K. government on Tuesday unveiled its Digital Economy Bill, which includes a part that could pave the way to U.S.-style retransmission consent fees and which wants to make the U.K. “the most digital nation in the world.”

The new bill also includes measures designed to strengthen protections for citizens. Among others, it will “protect children from online pornography by requiring age verification for access to all pornographic sites and applications” and “increase the sentencing options for people who infringe [on] copyright laws online, bringing sentences into line with the current penalties available for ‘physical infringement’.”

Section 73 of Britain’s current Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988 means that pay TV operators can retransmit public service broadcast channels without any payment, but the proposed bill would repeal that, a move that TV giant ITV, led by CEO Adam Crozier, has long advocated.

“We have consistently called for major pay-TV platforms to pay U.K. public service broadcasters (PSBs) fairly for the ‘transmission’ of their channels ending what is effectively a multi-million pound subsidy — and this is clearly a welcome first step in that direction,” an ITV spokesman said. “This is simply about ITV, and other PSBs, being paid fairly for their investment in original U.K. content so that we can continue to invest in the programs viewers love.”

Sky, in which Rupert Murdoch‘s 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake, and other pay TV firms have said that the U.S. and U.K. markets are different and that regulation in Britain would need to change for retrans payments. They have said proponents of retrans fees want to enjoy the benefits of their PSB status and also make pay TV firms and their subscribers pay to receive free-to-view PSB channels.

The Digital Economy Bill will now begin its progress through the U.K. parliament. It will have its first debate at the second reading stage and is expected to complete its passage through the House of Commons and move to the House of Lords in the fall. Royal assent, which is needed to make the bill into law, is expected in the spring of 2017.

“We want the U.K. to be a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government,” said U.K. digital economy minister Ed Vaizey. “The U.K. has always been at the forefront of technological change, and the measures in the Digital Economy Bill provide the necessary framework to make sure we remain world leaders.”

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.