The Bill, in part, aims to tackle illegal file-sharing and protect the creative industries from piracy. 

Members of the UK film industry have reacted favourably to the news that the UK government has passed the Digital Economy Bill, which aims to tackle illegal file-sharing and protect the creative industries from piracy. 

Film Distributors Association CEO Mark Batey told Screen: “We are really happy that the digital economy bill has now become the digital economy act. Our chairman, Lord Puttnam, has played a very important role in helping to shape the bill especially during the passage in the House of Lords and it is only by shaping a proper future for copyright in the UK that the creative industries will be able to grow in the future.”

Batey admitted that there were “still important details to be ironed out”, but added that “what has come about is the best that could have done given the circumstances and the Commons timetable. It is better  to be where we are than that the bill fell altogether, which could have happened earlier in the week.”

Christine Payne, chairperson of the Creative Coalition Campaign and general secretary of Equity, said: “Today marks a groundbreaking day for the UK’s creative industries. For too long, this illegal activity has been threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers throughout our sector. Looking to the future, we now face the challenge of ensuring that the system outlined in the Bill functions properly in order to allow industry to focus on developing new business models that can flourish without having to compete with illegal file-sharing, downloading and streaming.”

Lavinia Carey, Director General of the British Video Association, said: “The BVA is delighted to see the Digital Economy Bill successfully passed with clauses in place to protect copyright holders from peer-to-peer file sharing as well as from illegal sites offering copyright material for free. As a nation we should be enormously proud of our home entertainment industry which produces a wealth of extraordinary material to be enjoyed by millions. Illegal consumption of this material is effectively stealing and squeezes the industry’s budgets, which in turn stunts the creativity of content and innovation we have come to enjoy.”

Meanwhile, media lawyer and intellectual property specialist Shireen Peermohame of London firm Harbottle & Lewis said: “One of the most controversial aspects was the clause which would have given wide powers to block access to Internet sites carrying illegal downloads. This has been replaced by a clause allowing the government to block sites which the Court considers are likely to be used to infringe copyright, or which are carrying infringing material.”

She continued: “whether this is giving the government the same wide powers dressed up in different language remains to be seen. Frankly, though, I doubt whether any Court would allow a site to be blocked without good evidence about what is happening or is likely to happen on it, and the outrage about government intervention may well be an overreaction. ”  

The bill, which will implement many of the proposals set out in the government’s 2009 digital Britain white paper, was rushed through yesterday, before the dissolution of Parliament ahead of the UK’s general election.

Under the terms of the bill, internet service providers will be obliged to send letters to alleged file sharers. Copyright holders will be able to apply for a court order to gain access to the names and addresses of serious infringers and take action against them while ISPs would be able to suspend accounts of offenders.

The bill also imposes a legal commitment on broadcaster Channel 4 to invest in its film arm Film4, as well as in “innovative content” for online distribution.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 told Screen that whilst the bill was welcomed, it did not significantly change the broadcaster’s position, as it was already committed to investing in films: “We used to have a commitment to film in our remit prior to 2004, which was taken out. So this is really just putting something back in that already existed. The UKFC has given the impression that this is a great victory, which implied that we were somehow reluctant to commit to film. This is not the case, and Channel 4 has always been committed to developing and investing in films.”