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Digital Economy Bill passed, broadband tax axed: What you need to know

The government is one step closer to cutting off illegal downloaders, although it's been forced to scrap a proposed 'broadband tax'. We find out what the bill means for you

The government is a step closer to pulling the plug on your Internet if you're caught illegally downloading -- but the 50p 'broadband tax' has been scrapped.

The Digital Economy Bill, which sets out plans to disconnect copyright infringers, was passed in the House of Commons last night. A shameful 5 per cent of MPs were present for a debate on the bill, our sister site ZDNet UK reports. It was bundled through in the 'wash-up', a period when laws are fast-tracked before parliament dissolves for the general election. Any questions on the bill? Fire away.

How does the bill work?

Copyright holders, such as record or film companies, can crack down on illegal filesharing. When a copyright holder spots what it thinks is a violation of its copyright, it must send evidence to ISPs within a month. Copyright holders can also demand anonymous lists of suspected copyright infringements from Internet service providers (ISPs).

What does the bill mean to me?

If you're accused of illegal filesharing by a copyright holder, your ISP will be forced to send you a letter asking you to stop your beastly behaviour right this minute. Should this fail to deter you, copyright holders can then directly target you after applying for a court order to demand your name and address from your ISP.

Could my Internet be cut off?

If you continue with your naughty behaviour, ISPs can suspend your Internet connnection. ISPs can be fined up to £250,000 for failing to do so. Even if you aren't breaking the law, it's possible you may be accused of dodgy downloading if you share an IP address with someone who is breaking the law. A major criticism of the bill is that it doesn't appear to take account of technical loopholes, like someone stealing your Wi-Fi or using a public connection to do their despicable downloading.

What if I'm innocent?

If, like the A-Team, you're accused of a crime you didn't commit, you have two options: go underground as a soldier of fortune, or appeal to an independent tribunal.

Digital Economy Bill

How will the bill combat piracy?

The idea is to discourage and penalise users who download copyrighted material such as films, games and books without paying the copyright holder. Unfortunately, reports suggest a harsh three-strikes law in France has actually seen file-sharing rise.

As well as targeting users, the bill allows for the Secretary of State for Business to block "a location on the Internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright". This is aimed at closing access to file-sharing sites, but alarm bells are ringing over the term "likely to".

What else is included in the bill?

Ofcom will now produce reports on the state of the Web. The government can take over failing domain-name registries. Children's programming and film production and distribution have been added to Channel 4's remit.

What's been dropped?

The government dropped plans to make it easy to use copyrighted works without permission, which had photographers up in arms. Proposals for independently financed news consortiums to replace ITV regional news bulletins were scrapped. Ofcom's remit will not be widened to include all 'media services'.

The government also withdrew plans for a 50p monthly 'broadband tax' on phone land lines, which was proposed in a separate finance bill. We believe that's one of those 'humiliating climbdowns' they're always going on about on Newsnight.

Digital Economy Bill

Who supports the bill?

Copyright holders, such as record, film and publishing companies. And Peter Mandelson. Remember voting for him? No, us neither.

Who opposes the bill?

Labour MP Tom Watson is the most vocal critic in parliament. 20,000 members of the public who have written to their MPs in the last week alone. 35,000 people who have signed a petition in opposition to the bill. Assorted creative and techy types, including Father Ted and The IT Crowd scribe Graham Linehan, who signed an open letter to MPs criticising the rushed, half-arsed passage of the bill. Open-source campaigners such as Richard Stallman. ISPs. Us. You, probably.

Digital Economy Bill

When will this happen?

Although the bill was rushed through last night, sanctions on serial offenders will not come in for a year.

Who pays for all this?

Copyright owners pay Ofcom's costs, and split the cost of enforcing the bill with ISPs. Worryingly, the bill currently splits the cost of appeals between you, the copyright holder, and the ISP.

What's next?

In the meantime, Ofcom will work out the details and put them up for public consultation. The next parliament will then scrutinise the results. Ofcom has to decide how the bill will be enforced, how appeals will work -- and who will foot the bill, so to speak.

We'll keep you posted on everything you need to know as the bill progresses. Any thoughts, you know where to put them: in the comments, and a note to your MP.

Original image: G4EGK