Digital Economy Bill Pushed Through Despite Opposition

The Digital Economy Bill must be amended before it becomes law or it will be costly for small firms, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has warned.

The controversial Bill was widely expected to be delayed until after the election on May 6, but has been pushed through the House of Commons by the Government and is now due to pass to the House of Lords for final approval.

However, it will still face further scrutiny by the next Parliament before it is enacted. There will be also be an extended period of public consultation.

Much of the Bill, which aims to protect copyright and tackle illegal file-sharing, will not directly affect small businesses. But relevant new measures include tougher penalties for those that infringe copyright by copying content from another website or downloading shared files illegally. Serial infringers could see their Internet access suspended under new powers given to Internet Service Providers.

Under the proposals, the owner of a Wi-Fi connection could be held liable for downloading pirated material, even if they are not responsible. This means providers of public Internet connections, such as shops, cafes and pubs, could be penalised.

FSB spokeswoman, Prue Watson, said that the reforms could be costly for small firms.

“The situation is still unclear, but as it stands, this element of the Bill is unfair and unworkable. It could end up costing business owners a lot of money if they are prosecuted.”

“Currently, there is no adequate defence provided in the Bill for owners of shared computers, and appeals are time consuming and costly. The risk is that many small businesses may be forced to stop providing such services. We want to see the Bill amended to stop small firms from being unfairly penalised.”

Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, said the legislation struck the right balance between giving creative artists more protection and giving consumers a “fair deal”.

Find out more about the Digital Economy Bill.

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