The government have asked Ofcom to re-evaluate whether blocking websites used for copyright infringement will work. The Digital Economy Act granted the government the ability to implement blocks on websites which are used solely for the use of copyright infringement but these do require secondary legislation to come in to force. It seems there is now some doubt over whether plans to block websites would work, and the government are seeking clarification from Ofcom on whether these will work.
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."Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary
The details the government would like Ofcom to address in relation to this are:
- Is it possible for access to the site to be blocked by internet service providers?
- How robust would such a block be – in other words would it have the intended effect, and how easy would it be to circumvent for most site operators?
- What measures might be adopted by internet service providers to prevent such circumvention?
- How granular can blocking be – i.e. can specific parts of the site be blocked, how precise can this be, and how effective?
- How effective are sections 17 and 18 of the Act in providing for an appropriate method of generating lists of sites to be blocked?
- If possible, identify either a potential range of costs for ISP blocking solutions or the main drivers of those costs.Terms of reference for Ofcom assessment of site-blocking in the Digital Economy Act
Of course, the government should have already thought about whether site-blocking will work before forcing the flawed act into law, however due to the Labour government being keen to push this through parliament, it didn't receive the appropriate scrutiny that was required and it is promising to see that this is now being revisited. One does wonder how much time and money may have been wasted through this process though.
Being keen to stand up for the rights of people and to be seen to be listening, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister has also piped up on this issue and backed the decision for a review of the policy.
“When we launched Your Freedom, I promised that the ideas submitted would be given proper consideration. Although reform of the Digital Economy Act did not form part of the Coalition Agreement, we have listened to the views expressed. The Government will look at whether we have the right tools for the job in addressing the problem of online copyright infringement.Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister
Perhaps one reason for this review is the recent 'WikiLeaks' events which have shown that when people are resilient and willing, they can ensure that the website will not be taken down, only moved to a new location, even if large governments are keen for it to be removed. As information spreads quickly across the Internet, blocking sites can only have a very short affect before the new location is widely publicised.
Ofcom are also in the stages of implementing other parts of the Digital Economy Act, notably the '3-strike' notification system that ISP's will need to use to warn users not to take part in unlawful file-sharing. Unfortunately, this part of the Act is also facing scrutiny through a high-court appeal brought by BT and TalkTalk over fears that some parts of this could breach EU law.