The Digital Economy Bill has major implications for a number of areas of the online world, the largest perhaps being its role in clamping down on online piracy and illegal file-sharing. This though is not its sole purpose, another aspect of it is changes to how Ofcom operates making it do more to encourage the spread of Next Generation Broadband services.
The bill has now passed its third reading in the House of Lords and passes back to the House of Commons prior to receiving Royal Assent and becoming an Act of Parliament. The bill has received widespread criticism particularly over the way that copyright violations will be dealt with. Interestingly tonight at 8:30pm, BBC Panorama is talking to artists about the issue of file sharing.
The views from the artists are diverse with some suggesting that one issue may be the amount of airtime given to music before it is actually released to the public; i.e. should the old business model of delaying the release of a single until every radio station is playing it to ensure a sharp peak of sales change to meet the new digital era. As it stands now, people are hearing a track and wanting to download it to listen to on their MP3 player, and as it's not officially released they will most likely stumble across an unauthorised release.
As ever, to ensure a balance of views this close to a General Election, there are comments from the Conservative and Liberal Democrats on the BBC website. The Conservatives broadly supporting the bill, with their emphasis appearing to be on business models rather than the individual. The Liberal Democrats whilst recognising the need to protect intellectual property, has opposed the original clause 17 (this clause gave wide ranging, almost uncontrolled powers to police copyright).
The question now really is, how will the wording of the bill actually be implemented in practice? Will we see a trickle of cases as rights holders get to grips with the new system, or a massive floodgate of cases in an attempt to very quickly assert their new found abilities to try and reduce online piracy. If the measures do not work, and it is possible that the measures may backfire, (for example, as the media companies police one network) users may simply switch to another method that is even harder to track. Fashions on the internet can be very transient and impossible to predict.
For those wondering where the proposed 50p tax/levy to finance the 'Final Third' broadband project fits into all this, it is should be covered in the Budget that will be delivered on 24th March.