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Backlash against Digital Economy Bill begins

A civil disobedience campaign started minutes after MPs voted to approve the controversial Digital Economy Bill last night.

Organised by Whatdebill.org, more that 4,200 people tweeted their displeasure in 12 hours.

TalkTalk executive director of strategy and regulation Andrew Heany said in a blog post, "If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rights holders we will see them in court."

The debate on the bill in parliament contrasted strongly with the debate on the web. Only a couple of dozen MPs spoke, while the #debill hashtag is still on Twitter's hot topic list.

Many commentators were appalled to see "democracy" in action. Only 236 MPs voted on the bill, giving a quorum of just more than one-third of MPs some of the most contentious legislation the government has introduced in 13 years in power.

Writing in The Guardian, James Graham, co-founder and executive member of the Social Liberal Forum, said, "You would be hard pressed to find a better example of how broken our current political system is than the passage of the Digital Economy Bill through parliament."

Business secretary Peter Mandelson came in for particular criticism. Many noted his unelected status and his "distortion" of Stephen Carter's original, wider aim with the bill through his emphasis on fighting online piracy.

Shortly after the votes were tallied bloggers set up two websites - http://debillitated.heroku.com and http://www.theyworkforthebpi.com/ - indicating how MPs voted.

In the hours before the debate started more than 20,000 people e-mailed MPs asking them to delay the bill until the next parliament, when it could be given more thorough scrutiny.

If this level of energy is sustained, the bill is likely to become an election issue. All parties have set out their stalls in terms of getting Britain onto the digital highway, so further debate about what it entails appears likely.


The Digital Economy Bill, although bitterly fought, was not without some light relief.

Adam Liversage, communications director of the BPI, one of the most vociferous lobbyists for the bill, was caught on Twitter less than two hours after the vote, advocating copyright infringement.

The Gene Hunt poster from the BBC's Ashes to Ashes series was apparently made by both Labour and Conservative parties using copyright images without permission.

And Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt provided an example of how filesharing can go wrong. "An image of none other than the great Lord Mandelson himself is apparently being used to market a Russian vodka, with the caption, 'When only the best is good enough'. If ever we needed proof that captions to pirated images can be misleading, surely that is it," he told MPs.


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