Web blocking and the Lords

The amendment to do with web blocking and copyright from Tim Clement-Jones and Tim Razzall in the House of Lords has generated much discussion online. Yesterday we ran a piece from Lord Clement-Jones explaining his reasoning:

There are websites which consistently infringe copyright, many of them based outside the UK in countries such as Russia and beyond the jurisdiction of the UK courts. Many of these websites refuse to stop supplying access to illegal content.

It is a result of this situation that the Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment in the Lords which has the support of the Conservatives that enables the High Court to grant an injunction requiring Internet Service Providers to block access to sites.

You can read the full piece here, and in response the journalist and author Cory Doctorow (who is a party member too) has penned a piece over on BoingBoing:

Since I posted yesterday about the UK LibDem Peers’ introduction of a pro-web-censorship amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, the Peers have withdrawn their proposal and entered a revised one jointly with Conservative Lords.

Unfortunately, this amendment is even worse in some ways.

He details five reasons ending with:

The only country to enact anti-web-locker legislation to date is South Korea, which brought in a similar measure to the LibDem proposal as a condition of its Free Trade Agreement with the USA, whose IP chapter focused largely on locking down the Korean Internet. In the time since the US-Korea FTA, Korea has slipped badly in the global league tables for ICT competitiveness, going from being a worldwide leader in technology to an also-ran.

You can read his piece in full here.

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UPDATE: There’s been a vigorous debate in the party since this post, including an open letter from 25+ Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates opposing the amendment. See the update here for more information.

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  • Why is there not more outrage about this? I mean, beyond this blog and the usual suspects (Slashdot, Cory Doctorow, the ORG etc).

    The Digital Economy bill is clearly an outright threat to the individual liberty of the British population, implemented to protect private interests. This is the sort of thing that the media and charities are, quite rightly, up in arms about. But its a boring technology issue? Only geeks would care about that.

    I wrote to my MP (Andrew Smith, Oxford East) when the bill was first introduced, and he fobbed me off with a 2 page response from Stephen Timms that didn’t even address my concerns. I was looking forward to voting for the local Lib Dem candidate, but it seems even the Liberal Democrats aren’t Liberal (or Democratic) enough to care about privacy, fair trials, a guilty-until-proven-innocent legal system, or any of the other issues that the bill raises.

  • @Alix – I’d hope so. Lord Clement-Jones seemed to understand the technical issues yesterday, he just seemed to think that we were wrong about our concerns with his amendment.

    Also, a slip of the tongue in my first comment: I obviously meant “innocent until proven guilty”.

    I’ve just written to one of my MEPs about ACTA. It’s a busy time for those worried about technology issues.

  • Andrew Suffield 4th Mar '10 - 2:04pm

    a 2 page response from Stephen Timms that didn’t even address my concerns

    I got that one too. I bet it’s the exact same one; mine was a form letter. That’s a typical response to a first letter; I wrote a few more. Not much more I can do, unfortunately.

    Cory’s reasoning is a bit dodgy in places here, so I can’t support it as-is. I also note that this bill isn’t creating a web-blocking law, it’s just adjusting the one that we already have (yeah, we do kinda have one of these), and this amendment is a cross-party compromise to get rid of that “Secretary of State can do whatever he likes” clause. So I’m not really comfortable with condemning the actions of the Lib Dem peers here.

    I still don’t want it to pass.

  • Well this isn’t liberal at all. Why am I a member of this party again? Not sure at this moment, very angry though.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 4th Mar '10 - 3:00pm

    I’m sad that the only mischief they sight is “copyright infringement”.

    Blocking the very considerable amount of child pornography, which causes great harm to the victims of abuse in such pictures, on the internet would be a better move.

  • @Antony Hook,

    Child pornography is illegal in almost all jurisdictions. Why couldn’t our government just contact the government where the child abuse hosting server were located, and have them take it down? Thus, no need for some “Great Firewall”, or any unaccountable censorship by the UK government.

    It’s worth pointing out, we already do have child porn web sites censored by the Internet Watch Foundation. Together with (disgusting but shouldn’t-be-illegal) websites which have cartoons of child porn. Together with innocent non-sexual pictures of naked children.

    We’ve had this censorship for no more than a couple of years, and already its out of control. Now do you see why people oppose this measure?

  • Register of Lord’s Interests.


    *12(b) Parliamentary lobbying

    Partner of DLA Piper (international law firm) and adviser to its global government relations practice.

    The member is paid £70,000 in respect of his services as Co-Chairman of DLA Piper’s global government relations practice.

    ” Lord Clement-Jones takes £70,000 a year from DLA Piper, a law firm specialising in copyright and patent law, who would stand to gain a great deal if this draconian bill gets passed into law.”


  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 4th Mar '10 - 5:06pm


    I don’t support it but it’s not a Firewall is it? I understand a Firewall to be an automated system that can often keep out things that you really don’t need it to filter.

    The system the Tims are proposing would, as I understand it, require an individual person to go a real court and ask or a individual host to remove an specific page or piece of content.

    It may not be right but it’s not as blanket as a Firewall is it?

    You first point is a fair one but actually I don’t think, for example, Russia has an effective enough criminal justice system to take that kind of action at all, let alone at a foreign request. Suppose a local official in a country with a weak CJS has choice between closing down a Russian internet company at the request of a Western country or taking a bribe from them and not doing it, it is sadly likely he will choose the latter I think.

  • @Antony Hook

    I’m not certain, but I think the behaviour of a firewall is at the discretion of the system administrator; some work automatically (e.g. by blocking suspicious looking packets), some by set access rules (e.g. user A cannot access superhotporn.com). Maybe I’m wrong. I only said “Great Firewall” as an overly emotive and slippery-slope fallacious reference to the Great Firewall of China, which is obviously far more extreme than anything we’ll see in Britain until they start burning books again. That said, I still stand by my attacks on the IWF – they may not ask ISPs to block political content, but they are as undemocratic and opaque an organisation as one will ever come across.

    Individuals (or more likely, corporations) would have to go to court, yes. However, I’m still worried about the lack of provision for the accused to defend themselves from accusations of copyright infringement, especially while our libel laws and super-injunctions remain on the books. And should the courts have the power to take sites (or pages) down? Shouldn’t the amendment detail the legal framework for sites to be put back up?

    With regards to international law enforcement: Russia are a member state of Interpol. They have already shown an interest in cross-border co-operation of police forces. And I doubt the Russian government want to be associated with protecting child abusers. I at least think our first instinct should be to pressure them to prosecute the paedophiles in their own country.

    Hypothetically, supposing the material was hosted in a country that did not have the resources or inclination to remove the CP, then I suppose there is a debate to be had on whether the material should just be outright blocked. I think that if we do censor, we should make damn sure that we do the blocking right, though. The web page should redirect to a sign that says “The UK government has blocked this website on the grounds that the content is deemed unacceptable and features the exploitation of children. If you feel there has been a mistake, please contact the independent reviews panel at …”. The government’s criteria for blocking should be publicly laid out, and ministers should not be able to instruct for specific sites to be blocked.

    I realise that I’m blabbering a bit, and have swayed slightly off-topic, so I’ll summarise my comment with a punchline. It is just about conceivable that there should be some instances in which the government may have to block access to some websites, perhaps. However, I doubt copyright infringement justifies such extreme measures, and even if it does I think this amendment is not the way to do it.

  • Andrew Suffield 4th Mar '10 - 6:04pm

    Child pornography is illegal in almost all jurisdictions. Why couldn’t our government just contact the government where the child abuse hosting server were located, and have them take it down?

    We’re getting a little off-topic here, but the main reason why this doesn’t work is varying opinions of what constitutes ‘child pornography’, particularly in regards to the magic number of hours since birth when a child transmutes into an adult.

    The vast majority of the “child pornography” that the UK and US governments like to rant about is produced in Russia. It mostly features individuals aged 15 to 17, unclothed and suggestively posed, but not engaged in actual sex acts. It’s completely legal (under their own laws), and it’s often poor, homeless orphans or families who face a very real prospect of starving or freezing to death if they can’t bring in some money. Our government’s position is that they’re better dead than caught on camera; the Russian government disagrees, and takes the position that our government has set the age too high. Obviously, this is not a simple matter to resolve, morally. The point here: regardless of which way you think this should be resolved, there is no international agreement, so you cannot simply ask the hosting country to take it down and expect that to get you anywhere.

    Russia’s more cooperative when it comes to under-14s, which is their “age of consent”, but that accounts for a relatively small amount of the material. They are actually willing and capable of taking down the groups who do things like that.

  • I am rather outraged by the Liberal Democrats on their proposal. I upheld that the Party were true to their ideology; ‘liberalism’….but this does not seem to be the case. The more I review their recent manifesto and contemporary policies, the more I acknowledge how they have sadly evolved into a Party of policies catering to businesses and populism, similar to the other ‘big two’ Parties. It seems that the only foreseeable party who do maintain opposition to The Digital Economy Bill are The Green Party

  • This is religous intolerance gone too far. This is claerly an attack on those that prescribe to the bible as the basis of thier religion. Jesus Christ was the first file sharer. in the story of the feeding of the 5000, Jesus start off with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. He broke the pieces of bread up as he blessed them and got his disciples to distrube them.

  • Guy Incognito 5th Mar '10 - 2:41pm

    It’s good to see the Lib Dems selling out to the big media corporations like the other big parties. It saves us thinking about who to vote for as there all the same. I just hope that the Pirate Party setup in my area so I can vote for them, the only party that seems to understand the risks of protecting big failing media empires. The politicians need to realise that they are paid to look after the interests of the people not the companies that donate to their parties.

  • This is not the way we should be going.
    The granting of ever-increasing privileges to copyright holders is against the original intention of the laws and just turns the internet into a rent-collection device. This produces chilling effects on fair use, and promotes use of copyright to stifle legitimate debate (‘rights holders’ can hit people with lawsuits to shut them up – these are called SLAPPS – strategic lawsuits against public participation and would be encouraged by this legislation)

    The way we should be going, is not to further privilege copyright rent collectors and further criminalise the population, and not creating or tacitly permitting surveillance regimes to enforce these rules. Not liberal, not at all!

    I have come by this opinion gradually, being truly appalled at the measures being contemplated to stamp out and control expression and fair use.

    I came across this – the original argument on Copyright : read MacCaulay, will take five minutes and open your eyes : http://yarchive.net/macaulay/copyright.html

  • I would implore all those who are passionate about such principles to review The Green Party’s policy:

    1. introduce a Citizen’s Income (see EC730), which will allow many more people to participate in cultural creation;
    2. introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years;
    3. legalise peer to peer copying where it is not done as a business;
    4. liberalise ‘fair use’ policies to operate outside the academic environment, and allow greater development from existing copyright material; and
    5. make it impossible to patent broad software and cultural ideas.

    It is without question that such a Bill will limit the freedom of the majority. What needs to be implemented is a realistic bill that allows societal innovation to remain and individual and collective liberty to prevail. I believe it is fallible to apply the same property rights to intellectual material as that as physical….it just cannot be done. A intelligible approach needs to be taken which is utilitarian and fair to all classes and all members of commerce and both present and future civilisations.

  • I was very disappointed to hear a Liberal Democrat had anything to do with this proposal. I dug a little deeper and found conflicting interests that should have resulted in Tim Clement Jones being given the boot.
    It turns out you are all just the same greedy grubby parasites in different coloured jackets.

  • These proposals are just aimed at the small user who if they are not careful end up with thousands of pound being demanded by the claimed IP owner. I was sent a bill with legal threats for over £4000. I had created a test web page using a 1&1 template. Because this contained some pictures that getty images claimed they had rights to they just invoiced me. These new proposals are just the thin edge of the wedge.

  • What were the Libs thinking with suggesting this stupid clause?

    you might of just lost my vote

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