Government drops web blocking plans following Ofcom review
Proposals for blocking copyright infringement sites was a core part of the Digital Economy Act (sections 17 and 18) with the aim of reducing the amount of copyright infringement in the United Kingdom. Today sees the publication of reviews into this part of the Act as well as the appeals process by Ofcom, and it would appear that following these reviews Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced the plans to block websites are being dropped.
It is [Ofcom's] current belief that the blocking of discrete URLs, or web addresses, is not practical or desirable as a primary approach. Infringing website operators can readily change the structure of a websites, particularly commonplace database driven websites. We therefore recommend that if site blocking is adopted it should be implemented at a domain level.
We believe that in the short-term site blocking by DNS based blocking is currently the quickest to implement.Extract from conclusion of Ofcom report - 'Site Blocking' to reduce online copyright infringement
The Ofcom report stretches to some 54 pages, and looked at five main questions (Ofcom page with links to reports):
- Is it possible for Internet service providers to block site access?
- Do sections 17 and 18 of the Act provide an effective and appropriate method of generating lists of sites to be blocked?
- 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?
- Can specific parts of web sites be blocked, how precise can this be, and how effective?
The report explored each of these points, and generally comes to the conclusion that no single method of blocking is fool proof, and that over blocking (whereby lawful content is accidentally blocked) can be an issue. Additionally while the current IWF transparent proxy system used by many providers to block child pornography works on a smaller scale, scaling to cope with the vast amount of copyright violations would be costly. There also seems to be general support that copyright infringement policing should be on a seperate system to the IWF blocking list, to avoid hackers causing a filter, that everyone agrees should exist, failing.
The report does point out that DNS blocking will be less effective in the longer term due to the changes that DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) will produce. In short, the extra security that will reduce incidences of online fraud via DNS hijacks will actually make it less effective for site blocking. The impact of IPv6 was also considered, and other than acknowledging the ability of IPv6 to make it easier for rogue sites to adjust their IP setup, nothing firm was concluded.
A key point raised was that the liability of service providers would have to be protected from any over-blocking should it occur if a system was implemented. One area that people often throw into the mix as a way of avoiding any blocking would be the use of VPN services and anonymous proxies. This was covered and if use of VPN's became commonplace to circumvent blocking then whole VPN providers might be blocked as a way to combat this. The report does go on to say that an escalation such as this would require careful consideration.
The Ofcom review was written in the knowledge that the Newzbin 2 case was due to be heard in July, and the subsequent judgement by a court that BT should block access to the site, is also perhaps why Vince Cable has announced the dropping of blocking from the DEA. The case shows the currently available legal avenues can be used in addition to copyright holders requesting the removal of content from sites. Precisely how BT will perform the blocking of Newzbin 2 is unknown as yet, but this was thought to be through the IWF blocking system they use, which is known as Cleanfeed. One would assume that the Motion Picture Association (MPA) is aware of the ease with which alternate sites can appear or do already exist, but by showing a willingness to pursue, it is hoping to reduce the desire of people to set-up services.
For the average person in the UK today the most important news is that the laws on format shifting that have been out of date in the UK for a few decades are to be brought up to date. Copying a vinyl LP onto a cassette tape for use in a Walkman was technically copyright infringement, in the same way ripping a CD onto a MP3 player is. The latest technological twist being the emergence of cloud based services, letting people access their music collections anywhere.
The key to reducing copyright infringement in the UK, is ensuring people who want to consume media have access to it at a reasonable price, and in a global digital economy the release of films and music months apart across the globe are practices from a bygone age. It is impossible to stop all infringement, just as UK Customs cannot stop the import of all fake goods. Perhaps the way forward is to tie the physical world more into the digital world, just as DVD and Blu-rays are now available with digital copies of films, perhaps concert/festival/cinema goers should be offered a digital copy or price reductions on films/albums.