Independent View: Website blocking should not be on the cards

Lib Dems are wisely taking a detailed look at whether website blocking would lead to excessive legal claims and censorship of legitimate material, or if it could be employed to reduce copyright infringement.

Ofcom, too, has been asked to look at whether the policy is “practical”. We at Open Rights Group met them to say: no it isn’t. And the collateral damage to people’s rights is likely to be very high.

As it stands, copyright holders can already go to Court to ask for websites to be blocked, as the result of previous lobbying. But they don’t use this legal power, and want a new one: we can only suppose they want something easier and more likely to deliver the result they want.

We hear that music and film industry lobbyists are looking for a ‘quick fix’ to compensate them if the measures they proposed in the Digital Economy Act run into the ground. If the current Judicial Review causes further delays to the letter writing and possible disconnection proposals, then several years of intense industry lobbying will have failed to deliver what the BPI and MPA have demanded.

Talks at ministerial level are moving ahead. Ed Vaizey has held round tables between service providers and copyright lobbyists. We believe these started by looking at ways to develop online digital content industries, but swiftly focused on copyright infringement, and website blocking.

This is a policy area in danger of being defined by a tactic. Discussion of a strategic objective – developing digital music and film sales – degenerates swiftly into consideration of an industry demand for website blocking. Copyright lobbyists push for a quid pro quo for a possible failure to deliver the Digital Economy Act. Ministers agree ‘something must be done’, and government policy is born.

Questions of appropriateness, impacts on human rights and evidence examining policy choices are nowhere in sight. ORG has been told human rights will be considered later.

What will work, in a digital market economy, is action by rights holders to sell their stuff. With so many clear examples of how to sell digital goods, from games, ebooks, music and film sites, government should be looking to see how to promote these successes, rather than being led by the nose by lobbyists towards ever greater powers to control markets and suppress, regardless of consequences.

That is why Open Rights Group has asked UK citizens to email their MPs now. We want to raise these concerns directly with backbenchers so that it is clear that policy is being made without consideration of what really will work.

Jim Killock is Executive Director of the Open Rights Group. You can find him on twitter here.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.
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2 Comments

  • Ross Stalker 28th Mar '11 - 3:28pm

    I think that often, attacks on people’s digital rights are allowed to pass not because there is wide agreement with them, or even because those pushing them forwards are inherently authoritarian, but because of a simple lack of understanding of why digital rights are human rights and of the consequences of restricting them.

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