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U.K. embraces 'three strikes' for illegal file sharing

The U.K.'s House of Commons approves a bill that would allow service interruption of those accused of illegal file sharing. France passed a similar law in October.

Update: 12:43 p.m. To include quote from NBC Universal general counsel.

The U.K.'s House of Commons overwhelmingly voted in favor of creating a law that would enable copyright owners to seek the suspension of Internet service of those accused multiple times of illegal file sharing.

The House of Commons voted 189 to 47 to pass the Digital Economy Bill, which also seeks to give the country's government the authority to block access to Web sites suspected of engaging in pirated material, according to British publication The Telegraph.

The bill still needs to go back to the House of Lords, which is nothing more than a formality since that's where it originated.

What this means is that some of the major European governments seem to be lining up behind copyright owners. France passed a similar law in October. Copyright owners applauded the results of the vote.

"The UK legislation recognizes that digital theft is a job killer," said Rick Cotton, NBC Universal's general counsel. "(The bill) creates a carefully calibrated framework for ISPs to act to reduce illegal activity, protect workers, and help build the economy."

The passing of the bill also signals that so-called three-strikes policies is how many governments and media companies intended to protect copyrights. Three strikes is the term used to describe the sending of multiple warnings to suspected illegal file sharers. Under such laws, after a certain number of warnings, if the accused fails to stop, an Internet service provider can be required to suspend or terminate service.

Three-strikes laws are controversial. Plenty of pro-Internet user groups say cutting off someone's Web connection is the equivalent of turning off someone's water or power. People need to go online to pay bills, to send e-mail, and even to make phone calls.

Copyright owners say there's a simple fix: stop ripping off digital music, movies, games, and software. The music industry tried lawsuits, education, and e-mail warnings. Now, it wants ISPs to help slam the door on piracy.

The big question for the United States is whether the government will follow its European neighbors. In May, tech journalist Larry Magid in a CNET piece quoted Gigi Sohn, president of digital-rights advocate Public Knowledge.

"The recording industry and Hollywood have a lot of friends in Congress," Sohn said then. "Their aim is to get as many of these laws passed in other countries so that they can come to Congress and say 'others are doing it.'"

"(Europe) is like a petri dish," she added.