The U.K. Digital Economy Act: What you need to know

The various provisions of the U.K. Digital Economy Act have been publicly and privately debated for months.

The public outcry against the most draconian ones failed to make an impact on the legislators, so U.K. citizens and institutions are now faced with a law that will allow illegal file-sharers to be disconnected from the Internet, and public Wi-Fi services to be held accountable if illegal file-sharers use their infrastructure to download or upload such material.

The Act is supposed to usher Britain into the digital age, and involves provisions regarding communications infrastructure and media content, online copyright infringement, Internet domain name registration, and more.

According to the DailyTech’s Jason Mick, among the opponents of the bill were certain MPs, law enforcement agents, ISPs, companies like Google (that are worried about the provision for site blocking) and privacy and human rights advocates.

In favor of the Act – and the supposed instigators of it – were the UK “creative industries”, which are hit with an estimated figure of £1.2 billion in yearly losses due to piracy.

In the end, the British Parliament decided to side with the latter. OfCom, the (government funded) independent telecommunications regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the U.K., has been assigned many duties and powers by this Bill: copyright enforcement, internet domain name registration, the rating of video games, control of online content, and more.

“Starting in 2012, OfCom will have the power to start terminating or throttling connections of British citizens. OfCom and record and film companies will collaborate together to try to identify the millions of British citizens who are illegally downloading content. Those citizens will receive threat letters. If illegal downloads don’t cease or drop a prescribed present (currently 70 percent), OfCom will have the power to either throttle the citizens’ connections or cut them off entirely,” writes Mick.

But the thing that should worry U.K. citizens the most is Clause 18 – the one that will allow copyright holders to instigate OfCom against sites they claim contain some of their copyrighted material. This would not present such a big problem if the clause is invoked only when copyright infringement occurs. Unfortunately, a similar copyright law (the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act) has been abused in many instances by individuals or organizations to take down sites that did not contain copyrighted material, but only material of a sensitive nature that those people wanted to have removed.

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