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Industry leaders slam website blocking plans

Google, BT, Virgin, Orange and Stephen Fry join forces to speak out against a last minute amendment to the Digital Economy Bill.

Houses of Parliament

Leading UK industry executives have slammed Government plans to block websites carrying pirated material.

In a letter printed in the Financial Times, Tom Alexander, chief executive of Orange, led an army of industry leaders against amendment 120A of the Digital Economy Bill, which would make ISPs block websites accused of hosting pirated music or video without trial.

"This amendment not only significantly changes the injunctions procedure in the UK but will lead to an increase in internet service providers blocking websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without cases even reaching a judge," the letter said.

"The amendment seeks to address the legitimate concerns of rights-holders but would have unintended consequences that far outweigh any benefits it could bring."

The last minute amendment was made to the bill in the House of Lords last week by a pair of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Lords, following the dropping of the controversial clause 17.

It is claimed to target sites with a "substantial proportion" of illegal content but must consider any steps the site has taken to stop copyright infringement before trying to take it down.

However, this is not good enough for Alexander, who was backed up by other industry heavyweights such as Ian Livingstone, chief executive of BT, Neil Berkett, chief executive of Virgin Media and Matt Brittin, Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland. Actor and tech enthusiast Stephen Fry also joined the list of supporters.

The letter claims that there is a "myriad [of] legal, technical and practical issues to reconcile before this can be considered a proportionate and necessary public policy option" but adds that some of these issues may never be reconciled.

It concluded that to push this bill through at the end of a parliament without consulting both consumers and the industry was "very poor lawmaking" and the affects on free speech on the internet could damage the UK's reputation as a place to conduct online business.

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