Piracy smackdown in the U.K.

Blighty pushing bill despite controversy

As the U.K. government finally announced that the general election will take place May 6, its last-gasp attempt to restrict online piracy by introducing new laws hit fresh controversy.

The legislation is contained in the digital economy bill, likely to become law in the lead-up to the election.

The bill would give communications regulator Ofcom new powers to nix the Internet connections of net pirates after three warnings and enable copyright owners to block access to websites hosting illegal content.

The U.K. music industry, still reeling from the impact of web piracy, backs the proposed laws.

A recent study by economics firm TERA Consultants estimated that Blighty’s creative industries lost £1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2008 because of piracy.

Opponents of the bill — including Internet service providers — argue that identifying persistent pirates is difficult.

This is especially true, they argue, for users who share a web connection or connect via publicly available wireless services.

They claim the new law “could mean millions of homes, schools and libraries are threatened with Internet disconnection and tribunals.”

But the government is determined to push through the legislation, all that survives from a more ambitious set of proposals outlined in last summer’s Digital Britain report.

These could have seen the BBC forced to share part of its license fee with rivals to fund local news services.

Now any new laws affecting the pubcaster will have to wait until a new administration is in place.

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