Illegal downloaders will have service suspended

LONDON — A watered-down version of the U.K.’s controversial Digital Economy Bill has been passed by MPs in a last-gasp measure of the existing British parliament before the general election campaign begins to rev up.

The new laws give regulator Ofcom the power to block websites suspected of piracy and the ability to impose fines of up to £250,000 ($380,000) on Internet service providers that fail to act against persistent offenders.

ISPs will be allowed to suspend offenders’ accounts while copyright holders will be able to access the names and addresses of serious piracy offenders and take action against them.

Blighty’s Media Secretary Ben Bradshaw said the legislation struck the correct balance between giving creative artists more protection and providing consumers with a “fair deal.”

He said: “Hundreds of millions of pounds every year is currently haemorrhaging from our creative industries because of unlawful file-sharing.

“This is not a harmless or victimless activity. It deprives our musicians, writers and filmmakers and other artists of their livelihoods and if we don’t do something about it, it will pose a serious threat to our creative sectors and Britain’s role in them.”

However, Google, which has repeatedly opposed the plans to block websites, said the bill had “escaped proper scrutiny.”

A spokesman said: “We absolutely believe in the importance of copyright, but blocking through injunction creates a high risk that legal content gets mistakenly blocked, or that people abuse the system.”

As British MPs prepare to return to their constituencies to campaign for re-election or contemplate retirement or a new career, another contentious idea first floated in last summer’s Digital Britain report was ditched.

The plan to finance the spread of high-speed broadband in the U.K. by imposing a £6 annual tax ($9) on fixed phone lines has been abandoned — for now.

If the incumbent Labour government is re-elected the measure may yet see the light of day.

The Digital Economy Bill also gave new responsibilities to the U.K. pubcaster Channel 4.

Its remit will be rewritten and extended to include making “innovative content” for online distribution as well as TV.

The bill added that Channel 4 must produce news and content for children and teenagers, a move likely to please those convinced that not enough is being done to protect the U.K.’s tyke TV sector.

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