The introduction of the Digital Economy Bill has been met with fierce criticism from opposition parties and activists, who have branded it “shameless”, “outrageous” and “akin to a war crime”.
The Bill, unveiled by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, contains a number of controversial measures aimed at stopping illegal file-sharing and copyright infringement.
The Bill, if adopted, would compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to send warning letters to file-sharers, fine persistent offnders up to £50,000, and impose technical measures on households, even if only one householder has been accused of file-sharing.
A target of a 70% cut in illegal file-sharing is contained in the Bill, although no firm date has been set for achieving this.
However, the provisions to allow the Business Secretary to create secondary legislation outside of Parliament to tackle piracy have attracted the fiercest reaction.
In a statement, Liberal Democrat shadow Culture and Media secretary Dan Foster said: “This is an outrageous attempt to slip through sweeping changes with the minimum of scrutiny.
“For Lord Mandelson to attempt to create new offences without proper assessment by the Commons is utterly shameless.”
The UK branch of the Pirate Party, which campaigns for reform to copyright law and holds a seat in the European Parliament, has also been outspoken in its criticism.
Speaking to Edinburgh Napier News, party leader Andrew Robinson said: “This legislation is all about protecting the middle-men. It’s not about doing what’s right by artists, musicians, or the public.
“It provides a curious mixed message – file-sharing is so trivial that a letter can sort it out, but at the same time it’s so serious that it warrants a £50,000 fine.”
Philip Hunt of Pirate Party UK added the Bill was “akin to a war crime against the British people”.
Hunt also attacked the Business Secretary for an alleged lack of understanding of the internet.
He said: “Lord Mandelson thinks the net is merely a souped up interactive TV, where passive consumers meekly purchase whatever content is served up to them by the entertainment industry.
“But digital natives know that’s not what it’s about at all: the net is interwoven with our everyday lives.”
The Open Rights Group, the campaign group dedicated to preserving freedom of speech online have also reacted to the Bill’s publication.
Jim Killock, the Group’s Executive Director said: “The Bill doesn’t require any test of evidence before harsh punishments are imposed on people accused of copyright infringement, and opens the door to a ratcheting up of unwarranted powers without democratic scrutiny.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were unable to comment as we went to press.