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Mandybill reaches milestone, teeth intact

Radio haggling continues

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The Digital Economy Bill has reached the Report Stage in the Lords. It's survived intact, the Lords rejecting a clutch of last minute Google-friendly amendments. It may yet sprout more amendments before arriving in the Commons after a Third Reading.

Proposals by Lord Lucas would have permitted any "search engine" to link to infringing material. It would have clarified the law for publishers (like us), but since anybody can be a search engine, Pirate Bay prosecutions would not have been possible. Lucas also pushed for compulsory licensing - anyone could take what they wanted from a copyright registry, they then had to haggle over a price.

The most contentious part of the bill isn't file sharing, though, but radio. The prospect of an FM switch-off has teacups rattling across the land, and generated acres of newsprint when the idea was floated (incorrectly) last summer. It's highly unlikely to be a realistic prospect anytime soon, but almost everybody in the country has an opinion on radio - whereas only one in ten adults use unlicensed (aka "illegal" - we prefer unlicensed) music services.

Lord Eatwell, who works for Global's Classic FM, warned that the station might vanish if it wasn't given a seven year automatic license extension. It's due to go up for competitive bidding next year in an auction set to benefit the taxpayer with a £73m windfall. The automatic rollover proposed in Clause 31 is a Government sweetener to Global (Classic FM), Absolute Radio and Talksport, in an attempt to keep them flying the DAB flag. Eatwell was nervous:

"I would be willing to bet the noble Lord who is opposing that Clause 31 shall stand part of the Bill at least a bottle of claret that this licence would be secured by a pop music station, and that Classic FM would disappear," he said.

Lord Clement Jones opposed the sweetener.

"The sums lost to the Treasury will clearly amount to tens of millions of pounds over the lifetime of the extended licences," he said. "[There is a] lack of evidence about whether digital investment by the holders of these licences will continue without the extensions. On the face of it, many are already contractually or otherwise committed to digital even without this."

Much of the Bill may be thrown overboard if an election is called early. A period called the 'Wash-Up' is then invoked, and some intense horse trading follows. As the House of Commons Library advises, "some Bills might be lost completely, others might be progressed quickly but in a much-shortened form. A lot will depend on where the Bills are in the legislative process and whether or not they are controversial."

The latest date a General Election can be held is June 3. ®

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