U.K. digital economy bill passed

Critics claim results could be 'catastrophic'

LONDON -- Hollywood studios can look forward to increased U.K.-based copyright protection after the U.K. government passed controversial site-blocking legislation, despite the protests of over 20,000 Internet users and criticism from web giants including Facebook and Google.

The bill includes a controversial amendment to Clause 8, which now states that the Secretary of State for Business can order the blocking of "a location on the Internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright."

Some in the digital community have warned that the wording is too broad, giving the government effective power of allowing sites to be shut down even when the have not been categorically proven to be guilty of copyright abuse, warning such sites as Wikileaks and Youtube could be affected.

The legislation has the support of such bodies as recording industry British Phonographic Institute and a number of studios including NBC Universal. But a group of the U.K.'s leading broadband and Internet companies including Talk Talk, British Telecom, Facebook, Ebay and Google last month wrote to the Secretary of State warning that so-called site-blocking legislation would threaten the free flowing information exchange of the Internet.

Opposers of the bill were also critical of the way the bill was rushed through a Parliamentary vote after its third reading -- in order to become law before the general election on May 6. The process allowed only five minutes to debate the final 42 clauses of the bill.

Labour MP Tom Watson, who had tabled several amendments opposing Clause 8, said the passage of the bill into law was "catastrophic."

Mike Butcher, editor of the TechCrunchEurope website, said the bill was a "nightmare of unintended consequences," pointing to the experience of Sweden, where copyright protection legislation passed last year has led to a surge in encrypted Internet traffic.

"In other words, the very laws the entertainment industries had lobbied politicians to pass in order to protect their industry had created the even bigger headache of untraceable file sharing," he wrote on his blog.
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