Three-strikes piracy bill set for law

The Digital Economy Bill continued its inexorable path through Parliament today, and now looks set to hit the UK statute books before MPs have had a chance to fully debate it.

The controversial Bill gives powers to copyright holders to force ISPs to throttle or disconnect Internet users they think are repeatedly illegally sharing large quantities of copyrighted films and music.

It also creates powers to force ISPs to block access to web sites that give access to pirated material, which many people believe amounts to censorship.

With the general election officially announced this morning, a pitiful handful of MPs turned up to the Bill's second reading in the House of Commons this afternoon.

All three major parties indicated that they would push the Bill into law through the back-room “wash-up” process, which will allow it to become law before Parliament dissolves on Monday without the usual Commons scrutiny, debate and amendment.

Leader of the House Harriet Harman said that an amendment introduced by the Government last week means that the most-controversial powers the Bill creates will only be introduced after a “super affirmative procedure”.

This means regulations covering the power to throttle or disconnect Internet connections would be placed before the next Parliament for 60 days for review.

Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt tried to score cheap political points by trashing the Bill, saying he “wanted an iPod but we got an Amstrad”, but said the Tories will support it, including its most controversial provisions, anyway.

MPs from all three parties expressed concern that the Bill is to be pushed through without proper debate, noting that over 20,000 people have in the last week petitioned to have it held over until the new Parliament.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw noted that the government has been “inundated with emails” but said file-sharing is “not a victimless crime” and “poses a serious threat to our creative industries”.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (google him) used Twitter to say: “We oppose parts of #debill as tabled: very anti site-blocking. Will attempt amends in wash-up & oppose 3rd reading if unsuccessful.”

The Bill was conceived by the Government's business secretary Lord Mandelson, and it appears that, as enacted, it will have been almost entirely written by unelected Lords.

That must be what they mean by “peer to peer”.