Web giants unite to oppose UK copyright proposal

The bill would give the secretary of state too much power to change copyright law, the companies alleged

Google and several other Internet giants are lobbying the U.K. government to drop a proposal that would allow the secretary of state to introduce new changes to copyright law.

The proposal is part of Britain's Digital Economy bill, a comprehensive package of legislation that contains other controversial measures, including a requirement for ISPs to track illegal file sharing and possibly suspend the accounts of repeat offenders.

Last week, Google along with Yahoo, Facebook and eBay sent a letter to Peter Mandelson, first secretary of state and head of the U.K.'s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), asking the government to drop the 17th clause of the bill.

The clause would give the secretary of state the power to amend Part 1 and Part 7 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 in order to stop copyright infringement online in light of changing technology. Google blogged about the letter on Monday on its policy blog.

The four companies say the proposal goes to far. "This power could be used, for example, to introduce additional technical measures or increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place," they wrote. "This clause is so wide that it could put at risk legitimate consumer use of current technology as well as future developments."

The changes would be subject to a public consultation and must be approved by both houses of Parliament, according to a BIS spokeswoman.

"The law must keep pace with technology, so that the government can act if new ways of seriously infringing copyright develop in the future," according to a written statement from BIS. "However business will not wake up one morning to a world in which government has taken extensive digital powers."

The proposed powers include the ability for the secretary of state to impose fees related to changes to copyright law. The official, however, would not have the power to create or modify the criminal code.

The Digital Economy bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday and now will move into the committee stage on Jan. 6, which will be a line-by-line examination of the bill.

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