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Heavy fines and new powers for Secretary of State confirmed in Digital Economy Bill

LONDON - The government is to update copyright laws in a bid to provide greater protection for the creative industries as part of the Digital Economy Bill published today.

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The bill proposes increasing the maximum fine that can be imposed on those convicted of copyright infringement to £50,000 from £5,000 — a sum the government says is proportionate to the harm done to UK industries when the law is broken. The copyright laws will also make it easier and simpler for fees to be collected.

It also gives the Secretary of State power to amend the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988 as it sees fit, "for the purpose of preventing or reducing online copyright infringement".

This power has been dubbed the "creation of the pirate finder general" in the press, although the bill states that the power would "not be used lightly and there is accordingly a provision for consultation to be carried out before any order is made".

The bill outlines in detail the measures planned to stop people from downloading copyrighted materials, in what was dubbed the "three strikes" rule — although the bill only mentions "repeat offenders".

The new legislation would give copyright owners the right to demand that ISPs notify subscribers that have been downloading copyrighted material illegally and warn them about the law, with the "repeat offenders" being identified and prosecuted.

Business secretary Lord Mandelson has been heavily criticised in some quarters over the new legislation, not least from ISPs, who argue it is unworkable and puts an unfair burden on them.

Lord Mandelson said: "Better protecting our creative communities from the threat of online infringement will ensure existing and emerging talent is rewarded and will bring new choices for online consumers.

"Creating the right conditions for investment in our communications infrastructure will bring benefits for households and businesses in all parts of the country."

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