UK Checks Whether Its Site Blocking Piracy Measures Can Really Work


UK media regulator Ofcom has been asked by culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to review one part of anti-piracy law in the country’s Digital Economy Act “to assess whether (it) could work”.

That part is a clause which would allow courts, at rightsholders’ behest, to level injunctions forcing ISPs to block access to websites that mostly host copyrighted material without authorisation.

This process is not currently in effect, despite the controversial Digital Economy Bill having been passed last year. At the last minute, the corresponding clause 18 was removed in favour of a commitment that the measure would receive specific parliamentary debate and approval, which has not yet been granted.

Hunt says: “I have no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content. But it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice so I have asked Ofcom to address this question. Before we consider introducing site-blocking we need to know whether these measures are possible.”

Parallel to this site-blocking measure, the Digital Economy Act does include provision against P2P piracy. ISPs, at rightsholders’ behest, will be compelled to educate, warn and eventually throttle the connections of broadband customers who repeatedly download unlawfully.

But, despite the act’s assent in to law last year, even this measure has not actually been implemented. Ofcom has not yet produced a code of conduct under which it would manage the system.

So, Hunt’s announcement in no way amounts to a repeal of the act – but it is one more possible chipping away at a law whose adoption is looking decreasingly certain. In November, the House Of Commons’ media, culture and sport committee of MPs announced it would launch its own review in to the act’s “practicality and likely effectiveness”, while BT (NYSE: BT) and TalkTalk are awaiting a judicial review in to the act itself.

Although the P2P measures had passed last year, the music industry has spent the period since raising awareness of what it says is the growing piracy threat from websites and cyberlockers like forums and Rapidshare. It’s these sites to which the site blocking measure would apply.

The content lobby had essentially won the Digital Economy Bill. But there are now multiple opportunities for things to go awry.



The thing that worries me is the music industry’s apparent complete lack of understanding of their consumers activities and therefore how to successfully make the huge amounts of revenue the web could offer.

I don’t believe they know their enemy, or indeed if there is one. I downloaded a lot of music at uni. That expanded what I listen to and, now I have some spare money, I buy much more music than I would have done if I hadn’t had that exposure. The lifetime value of me as a consumer has undoubtedly increased.

Of course, I may be an exception but I doubt it. Also, due to that voyage of discovery, a decent percentage of that what I buy is on small indie record labels. Is that the real reason the big guys are lobbying and suing all and sundry?

Richard Tobin

I second the notions Anthony Watts states in his comment above; that “it is up to the music industry to find business models that both protect their investments, and encourage purchasing their products” and that this is not “stealing” as nothing physical is taken. The term “Stealing” in this circumstance is a convenient and emotive figure of speech not a legal term.

See: Principles of Cybercrime – By Jonathan Clough – Chapter 8.1 Copyright Infringement is (not) theft P228

I look towards Henry Ford who used to the best advantage the latest technologies for car production and passed the resultant benefit of cost saving onto the customer because he knew this marketing strategy would result in exponential market growth. Other established car manufacturers attempted to get the US government to pass laws to prevent him from undercutting their ability to match his competitiveness.

My Life and Work – By Henry Ford – Ch4 – The Secrete of Manufacturing and Serving – P.75

If new cars were prohibitively expensive to buy people would copy them and build their own (indeed sometimes they do which is partly why people built replica kit cars instead of buying a new Ferrari or Speedster, etc). Mostly new cars represent unbeatable value for money – a motorist could not replicate a VW Polo by hand in a shed for £10K – but some find the time/ability/money equation worthwhile for replicating a recording of music.

So the problem is not people’s access to media to copy, it is the business model by which it is officially sold. Spotify have found a package under which they provide access to your choice of music, of almost every stripe, free of charge – the pay-off being advertising. That works for me. There must be countless alternative business models where consumers can get access to media in return for some commercial advantage.

Rather than cajoling government to make laws that force people to pay more than something is really worth; government should refuse and tell media producers to rethink their business models for the new technology. So why have government not taken that stance? Perhaps because they enjoy taking a first, easy to sell, incremental step toward having the mechanism, legal and technical, in place to censor what you can access on the internet. And that is the reason why this Trojan Horse should be absolutely resisted, for the sake of preserving the freedom to access digital information without restriction.

Nb. I buy physical books rather that read whole books via Google Books because I dislike reading from a computer screen and it is not viable to download and print them out.

Antony Watts

Good. DE is a bad law, against us the consumers. It is up to the music industry to find business models that both protect their investments, and encourage purchasing their products. I see little move in this direction, only continual bleating about “piracy” (which is not stealing, but civil copyright infringement).

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