Digital Bill May Fall By Wayside

Much has been written in reaction to the U.K. government’s new Digital Britain bill, but it’s likely to be hypothetical as the odds appear stacked against it becoming law before the upcoming election.

Geoff Taylor welcomed the news that the current Labour government intends to tackle Internet piracy in the next session of parliament, but as chairman of the BPI he probably has to do that.

The music companies that make up the BPI have been crying out for legislation to curb illegal downloads, but in June Taylor accused the government of “digital dithering” and mounting evidence suggests he was right because it’s probably dithered too long.

The government appeared to fly out of the blocks by detailing the bill within two days of The Queen’s Speech Nov. 18 – when it was confirmed that it’s high on the legislative agenda – but it will struggle to have the matter done and dusted by March 31.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown may have been forced to call an election before that date. There has to be a general election by June 3 and he’s likely to give at least two weeks’ notice to allow time for campaigning.

If Brown stalls beyond a May 6 vote he risks getting a drubbing in that day’s local elections, which would hardly lift Labour’s spirits or build its momentum for the national vote coming three or four weeks later.

However much the record companies welcome the bill, the fact is that it’s one of the 14 pieces of legislation that Brown & Co. is vowing to tackle during what may be its last parliamentary session in power. In the same three-month period this year, it passed two bills.

Taylor’s not commenting on the bill’s chances of getting through and the BPI press is saying there are “too many variables to predict.”

The range of the reactions to the bill and questions over whether it’s even workable indicate that there are enough vested interests to ensure every clause is examined and probably contested.

“I’m concerned that we may be getting another government. I cannot imagine a Conservative government putting Digital Britain in the top three things on its list,” says Guardian Media Group chief exec Carolyn McCall.

The Tories may try to stall the bill rather than face the prospect of having to unpick it later.

With so many MPs due to stand down at the next election, some because of the bad publicity connected with the Daily Telegraph’s revelations about their expenses, it’s questionable how many of them will be even remotely bothered about the outcome.

Taylor and the BPI may be left to gain some comfort from the fact they gave it their best shot.