Government scraps website-blocking plans

The government will not use Digital Economy Act powers to block access to sites used for copyright infringement, although the courts have given rights holders that power anyway

The government has dropped plans that would have forced ISPs to block access to websites that are used for copyright infringement.

Houses of Parliament

The government has dropped plans to block websites that are in violation of copyright on the grounds that it is unworkable. Photo credit: Trodel/Flickr

The Digital Economy Act (DEA), passed in April 2010, gives the government the power to mandate such website-blocking. On Wednesday, as part of an announcement on copyright reform in the UK, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it will not exercise this power for now because Ofcom found the idea is unworkable.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt asked Ofcom to examine the matter in February, noting at the time that he had "no problem" with the idea of site-blocking.

"Ofcom concludes that the blocking of infringing sites could potentially play a role in tackling online copyright infringement, but that the approach set out in the DEA is unlikely to be effective because of the slow speed that would be expected from a full court process," the DCMS said in a statement (PDF). "This would provide site operators with the opportunity to change the location of the site long before any injunction could come into force.

"The government will not bring forward regulations on site blocking under the DEA, at this time," it added.

Although the act's site-blocking provisions will not now be used, rights holders are able to have sites blocked anyway, thanks to a High Court decision on 28 July to force BT to block access to Usenet aggregation site Newzbin2.

Copyright infringement

The DCMS also laid out the next steps for implementing the act, which is largely designed to crack down on copyright infringement.

The government said it is now free to move ahead with the 'initial obligations' that will force ISPs to notify customers when infringements have been detected, warning those customers to stop or risk penalties. This move had been held up by BT and TalkTalk's failed attempts to argue that the obligations defied EU laws on privacy, freedom of information and the responsibilities of ISPs.

BT and TalkTalk have applied to the Court of Appeal over the issue, and a hearing is scheduled for the autumn. Despite this, the government said it "remains confident that the judgement will stand, and is pushing ahead with implementation".

The ISPs did win one concession in their court battles against the DEA provisions, as the DCMS said rights holders will now have to cover all the costs of the appeals process.

However, it has also introduced a £20 fee for people who want to appeal against an accusation of infringement. It said the charge, which will be refunded if the appeal is successful, will "serve the purpose of deterring vexatious appeals intended to disrupt the system, but will not have a disproportionate effect on those with legitimate reasons to appeal".

Intellectual Property Crime Strategy

The government also plans to bring in a new Intellectual Property Crime Strategy, which it said will explore measures to "target the revenue streams of websites dedicated to infringing copyright, such as banning advertising on these sites and withdrawing payment facilities".

We also want to work with search engines to investigate how it could be ensured that unlawful sites do not appear higher up in search rankings than legitimate sources of digital content.


"We also want to work with search engines to investigate how it could be ensured that unlawful sites do not appear higher up in search rankings than legitimate sources of digital content, without distorting legitimate online business or harming fair competition," the DCMS said.

In its response to Ian Hargreaves's review of intellectual property, the government noted his point that copyright enforcement had to be accompanied by legal music and video services that were attractive to consumers.

"The government takes the review's emphasis on stronger market offerings as an implied criticism of what is currently available to consumers," the DCMS said. "The government appreciates this is something of a chicken-and-egg situation, where rights holders want to see stronger enforcement regimes in place before investing in new services, but by delaying their investment are creating a gap in legitimate provision which is being filled unlawfully."

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