Sharing in the UK

UK Government stick and carrot for file sharing

1st April

The Great Firewall of Britain...

Ed Vaizey confirms plans for a website blocking scheme

Minister Ed Vaizey has confirmed to Open Rights Group that Government ministers are talking to copyright lobby groups and ISPs about a voluntary “Great Firewall of Britain” website blocking scheme.  We need you to act now.

They want to block websites that music and film companies accuse of copyright infringement. 

But a 'self regulatory' censorship scheme places decisions about what you can and cannot look at online in the hands of businesses. It would remove the vital judicial oversight required by existing powers. Inevitable mistakes would lead to the censorship and disruption of legitimate traffic from businesses, publishers and citizens. And there is little evidence it will have any beneficial effects for the creative economy.

The good news is that the Minister has promised to include civil society groups in future discussions. We need to be there to counter the pressure rights holders are exerting on decision makers.

You can do your bit by letting your MPs know that website blocking is not acceptable and that the voice of civil society needs to be part of the discussions. Please email them now to tell them to oppose web blocking.

Read more on the legal and technical background here


29th April

Update: Starting Blocks...

Options for British internet censorship of file sharing sites

The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, appeared to have kicked the ball into the long grass when he asked Ofcom to review the workability of the government's controversial web blocking plans earlier this year. In fact, the measures continue to move apace.

Proposals are being mooted on two fronts: one could establish a new version of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to deal with filesharing; the other would put Google and the government on a collision course.

Proposal 1

Rights holders and internet providers are understood to be roughly in favour of an industry-wide voluntary code . This code would govern how and which filesharing sites are censored. Rights holders would likely have to satisfy a number of points before a Pirate Bay-like site would be blocked.

The code could establish a independent third body akin to the IWF that would implement the code and ultimately decide which filesharing sites are censored.

Detractors argue that such a newly created body would simply be too expensive and time consuming.

Proposal 1a

A variant, favoured by the legal professionals, is for a judge to rule whether a site should be blocked after the voluntary code has been satisfied. This would quell ISPs' fears about having to paying compensation to sites that claim to have been wrongly blocked, and also negate the need for a new body.

Proposal 2

Ofcom has been asked to review censorship via website blocking against the backdrop of the Digital Economy Act - in other words, this won't be voluntary, but set in a statutory context.

According to people consulted by Ofcom in recent weeks, the regulator is thought to be leaning down the domain name blocking route . Although Ofcom is not expected to recommend one blocking method over another, it will spell out the pros and cons of each.

Update: Meanwhile

30th April 2011. See  article from

Following complaints from two of the country's largest ISPs, last month the High Court began its judicial review of the Digital Economy Act, the legislation put in place in the UK to deal with illicit file-sharing.

Both ISPs accused the former government of pushing through the legislation without due process and questioned whether the Act is enforceable under current EU legislation. They also challenged the statutory order, currently in draft, designed to apportion the costs of meeting the requirements of the DEA. Under the law, service providers are required to take action against subscribers flagged as illicit file-sharers and could be required to block domains associated with infringement.

Now the High Court has almost completely rejected the challenge by BT and TalkTalk, with the ISPs winning only a slight concession on costs.

Mr Justice Kenneth Parker upheld the principle of taking measures to tackle the unlawful downloading of music, films, books and other copyright material. BT and TalkTalk had brought the judicial review, claiming that the measures in the Act were not compliant with EU law and were not proportionate. The judge rejected the challenge.

The judge ruled ISPs could be made to pay a share of the cost of operating the system and the appeals process but not Ofcom's costs from setting up, monitoring and enforcing it.

The Government will now consider changes to the statutory instrument.


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