Communications Act could make parental controls obligatory
The debate over how to protect copyright holders from unauthorised sharing of their content and how best to drive forward a Broadband Britain were key points in a speech that Jeremy Hunt gave to the Royal Television Society on Wednesday 14th September.
Jeremy Hunt's speech was wide ranging, covering the wide spectrum that media is delivered over in 2011, and concluded that his various measures require imagination, determination and vision.
3. Boldness in broadband
We have been equally bold on broadband. In a time of limited public money I announced the ambition for Britain to have the best superfast network in Europe by 2015.
Mission impossible? In August I announced radical plans that make it possible to deliver not just universal coverage of 2 Mbps but 90% coverage for superfast broadband.
And nearly everyone has risen to the challenge. 7 projects in the Highlands, Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Norfolk and Somerset and Devon have started. And today I can announce another two have been added to the list – Rutland and Suffolk.
All these areas have broadband plans that can deliver on that ambition. I want everywhere to be able to say the same - and unlike a year ago it now looks likely that everywhere will.Extract from speech by Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary
Many will question whether the UK is on target with its 2015 date, but given that once Virgin Media has completed its 100Meg roll-out, that will be available to close to 50% of homes in the UK it is looking feasible. The BT high fibre products should add a further 16% of coverage, which means to hit a 90% target, the money needs to be used on mainly 24% of UK homes. Will this be better than the rest of Europe, hard to say, since we all have intimate knowledge of how good or bad coverage is in our locality, but skant information beyond marketing info on other countries. The frustration of many is that they are seeing lots of press coverage, that often announces the money being allocated, sometimes multiple times, but very little sign of progress locally. How long will we be waiting before seeing Ministers handshaking the first BDUK funded superfast connection users?
The speech also outlined a draft Bill for the new Communications Act, of greatest interest for many will be the measures designed to protect consumers and companies from offensive and unlawful content. The definitions of both are below:
a. Offensive content
What we mean by offensive content is generally more subjective, and indeed can change over time. So when it comes to accessing material that can offend taste and decency standards in their own home, we should put consumers firmly in the driving seat. We won’t water down existing protections on traditional media – the watershed is here to stay – and I welcome the progress made both by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety and also by ISPs who have just completed work on a draft code of practice on parental controls.
b. Unlawfully distributed content
However when it comes to material that is being unlawfully distributed online, we need a different approach.
The first argument we need to nail is the idea that tackling this problem is an assault on the “freedom” of the internet.
John Stuart Mill defined liberty as the freedom to do anything provided it does not impinge on the freedom of others. Unlawfully distributing copyrighted material is theft – and a direct assault on the freedoms and rights of creators of content to be rewarded fairly for their efforts.
Fundamental to our concept of both freedom and the law is that it should apply to everyone without fear or favour. This means it must apply equally in the virtual world as in the physical world.
We do not allow certain products to be sold in the shops on the high street, nor do we allow shops to be set up purely to sell counterfeited products. Likewise we should be entitled to make it more difficult to access sites that are dedicated to the infringement of copyright. Sites that are misleading customers and denying creators fair reward for their work.
- A cross-industry body, perhaps modeled on the Internet Watch Foundation, to be charged with identifying infringing websites against which action could be taken;
- A streamlined legal process to make it possible for the courts to act quickly;
- A responsibility on search engines and ISPs to take reasonable steps to make it harder to access sites that a court has deemed contain unlawful content or promote unlawful distribution of content;
- A responsibility on advertisers to take reasonable steps to remove their advertisements from these sites;
- And finally a responsibility on credit card companies and banks to remove their services from these sites.Extract from Culture Secretary's speech to Royal Television Society
The model of Internet Watch Foundation is about managing a block list of URL's reported to them by users, which appears to go against the news in August 2011 that web blocking was not being considered. Perhaps it is not that part of the model this new body will be based on, as is often the case a great more detail is needed.
Putting a greater responsibility on search engines and ISPs risks stifling innovation and new businesses, since the time taken to inspect content would eventually cost money and without asking each copyright holder how can one be sure that content is on the site illegally. For example, a new website is starting out, that has the rights to give people music for free, but has to spend time liaising with every search engine provider to ensure they are listed, being blocked by one of the major engines for even just a week or two at launch time could ruin an upstart.
Parental controls are something that all responsible parents already use, or if they don't use them they closely supervise their childrens access to the internet. Sexualisation of children is of course something for concern, but the danger as ever of controls imposed from central sources is that they are based on the most puritan views, would for example the Sun newspapers website be blocked due to page 3, when it is still on the bottom shelf in the newsagents? It is offensive to some. How long if ISPs before parents are attempting to sue their ISP due to a site not being filtered by the obligatory parental control? Surely in a big society, the onus should be on each individual to play their part, and not rely on central mechanisms.
Blocking sites dedicated to copyright infringement seems an easy win, but while some sites are obviously there to infringe copyright, other places that offer cloud storage can be used, but these often offer things like online storage for legitimate reasons. The cat has been out of the bag with regards to the general public getting its films and music from free sources for so long now that locking it back up is a massive task and something that if addressed ten years ago would have been much simpler, e.g. when MP3 players emerged onto the market. At the end of the day, the costs incurred by the ISPs will be met by the consumer, and the copyright holders may not receive any more income from their content than they do now, simply less exposure.
The Culture Secretary also touched on the lack of mobile TV in the UK, perhaps the reason is simply people are not interested, and many people will assume coverage will be as patchy as mobile coverage is when traveling on public transport. The 4G auctions while they will bring faster mobile broadband to some, I am sure many would agree that they would rather the mobile networks get 3G data working reliably first. Far too often mobile broadband feels like using dial-up internet back in 1998 waiting for a connection to handshake, or figuring out why a device says its connected but there is no data flow.