Intensive lobbying by the music and film industries looks to have persuaded the U.K. government to plan a piracy clampdown that could lead to about 7 million file-sharers being prosecuted.
Press reports suggest legislation could be included in the Queen’s Speech in the fall, when the government outlines its priorities for the coming parliamentary year.
Business secretary Lord Mandelson is said to be backing moves to curb illegal file-sharing.
Anyone caught illegally downloading music or films could face severe restrictions on their Internet access and a fine of up to £50,000.
Mandelson, one of the most powerful members of the Labour government, is believed to have taken a more active role in the matter since communications minister Lord Carter left his post after delivering his Digital Britain report in June.
A government statement said the prime minister appointed Carter as communications minister with the specific task of commissioning and producing the report and it was always intended he’d stand down when the job was completed.
The Digital Britain document plotted the U.K.’s future path for all things digital, covering everything from next-generation optical-fibre networks, universal service commitment (USC) for broadband and public service broadcasting to mobile network spectrum allocation, the future of digital radio and protection of digitally created content.
A Sunday Mirror poll published Aug. 16 showed Mandelson was emerging as a favourite to succeed Gordon Brown as Labour leader. Party members place him second behind David Miliband as their choice.
A report in the Daily Mail suggested he ordered officials to draw up the draconian regulations days after dinner with David Geffen.
The paper says they dined together at the Rothschild family villa on Corfu, while Mandelson was holidaying on the Greek island.
The proposed legislation also has its critics and they include Tom Watson, the former minister for digital engagement who resigned when he was named in The Daily Telegraph’s revelations over MPs’ expenses.
“Not only do the sanctions ultimately risk criminalising a large proportion of U.K citizens, but they also attach an unbearable regulatory burden on an emerging technology that has the power to transform society, with no guarantees at the end that our artists and our culture will get any richer,” he wrote in the Independent On Sunday.
He said people who upload illegal content should be targeted, rather than downloaders.