If you haven't been languishing in a cave or living in some remote corner of the globe without TV or internet access, then you have probably come across something called the Digital Economy Bill.
This bill was recently passed and it has within it certain implications to anyone who downloads films, music or any content for that matter from the Internet.
Now there are many articles out there which explain in depth what each clause means in minute detail, but as a rule what you really want to know is not the minutiae, but how it will impact your digital life - especially when it comes to illegal downloads.
So here are a few points on some of the implications:
How does the bill aim to combat piracy?
The thought behind this one is that by creating a system where illegal filesharers come under closer scrutiny with harsher fines for those who steal content, it could mean that piracy is reduced - that is the theory.
However in reality this might not be the case as after an initial reduction in internet use serious filesharers could well hide their identities using encryption technologies and virtual private networks, meaning they can carry on with their activities anonymously.
Can I still carry out illegal downloads?
Yes, you can. But the issue now is that the Digital Economy Bill allows for copyright holders (film companies, record labels) to ask for you to be disconnected if you're caught downloading their material illegally.
You'll of course get a warning first from your ISP asking you to stop, but if you fail to do this then the company concerned could get hold of your details from your ISP and target you directly. Under mounting pressure and the threat of a large fine your ISP could end up cutting your internet access.
Will my privacy be compromised?
Yes, it could well be. This Bill means that if you persist in illegal file sharing activity, your ISP will be able get a closer look at you internet activity using Deep Packet Inspection meaning your activities could be scrutinised more frequently.
What will happen to filesharing sites?
The bill means that filesharing sites or sites connected with filesharing will be closely scrutinised, and if found to be used for illegal filesharing then there is the distinct possibility that it will be blocked. In short any filesharing sites are going to be in for a hard time.
The long and short
In a nutshell the Digital Economy Bill has been passed through in a hurry. Elections are looming and the Government has been under growing pressure to act from large copyright holders and publishing companies.
Neither does it appear to address the issues of unscrupulous individuals using unprotected Wi-Fi connections to carry out their downloading, possibly at your expense.
It is also a classic example of technology - in this case the ability to communicate and share data super quickly - moving ahead of society's ability to control it, inevitably leading to attempts by the powers that be to find a quick fix where there isn't one. Which cues up another of the great debates: is it technology itself that determines the type of society we live in or is technology simply part of the wider act of social shaping?
The big questions aside though, there is a fair amount of red tape to get through before it comes into regular effect so you won't need to change you activities for a good year or so.