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Digital economy bill likely to be pushed through before election

5th March 2010

Senior industry figures expect controversial measures against illegal filesharing to become law before general election

The digital economy bill will become law before Parliament is dissolved at the beginning of April ahead of a likely general election in May, senior media industry figures believe.

That will usher in controversial laws enabling rights owners to cut off or restrict internet access for users who download films and music illegally.

The bill contains measures designed to combat piracy. If it becomes law it will compel internet service providers including Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media to pass on information about persistent offenders to rights holders.

It is currently in the House of Lords and about to get its third reading, when peers get the chance to table final amendments to the legislation.

One of the most contentious parts of the controversial digital economy bill was voted down by the House of Lords – only to be replaced by a clause that campaigners say is even more draconian. The Liberal Democrats forced through a surprise amendment to the bill's notorious clause 17. Instead of new powers that threatened sweeping alterations to British copyright law, the Lib Dems added a clause that gives a high court judge the right to issue an injunction against a website accused of hosting a "substantial" amount of copyright-infringing material, potentially forcing the entire site offline.

After the Lords, the bill will then go the House of Commons in a fortnight's time. If it proceeds to its second reading by early April, when an election is widely expected to be called, it could enter the statute book before parliament rises.

After an election is called, the Commons and the Lords normally spend a few days passing legislation that has not finished its passage through parliament in a process known as the "wash up". At this stage the government can only get measures through with opposition support and bills, or clauses of bills, that are opposed by the Tories will almost certainly be dropped.

One senior industry source said: "The government deserves credit for pushing through a proposal that is not a votewinner. They recognise that the creative industries are a huge asset for the country."

The Conservatives have said they will torpedo the bill unless the government reverses a bid to push through "independently financed news consortia", which will make regional news to be shown on ITV1, and ministers are likely to have to drop these provisions from the bill if they want to get the rest of it on to the statute book.

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