Fears that Newzbin2 style blocking may lead to price rises
In July this year, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) won a court case to force BT to block access to the Newzbin2 website, a common site used for illegal file sharing. The blocking has not yet commenced, but it is getting closer as BT met the Motion Picture Association at the High Court of Justice on Friday 14th October to discuss the blocking and how it would work.
One presumes that BT would have been explaining that issues such as while it can block access, the MPA needs to be aware of developments by Newzbin2 that are intended to get around the blocking. ISPreview has highlighted the concerns of Consumer Focus (the statutory consumer champion).
- Website blocking technology is crude – often perfectly legal sites are inadvertently blocked too, raising the issue of ISP subscribers being denied access to legal content and services.
- Expense – web blocking is an expensive option for ISPs. Effectively an ISP could end up facing multiple injunctions ad infinitum – our concern is that the expense incurred will end up on consumer bills, increasing the cost of broadband for all.
- Website blocking can also result in degraded internet services, meaning UK consumers could face a reduction in speed and network reliability.
The issue with BT blocking a small number of sites is relatively simple, but with the precedent set by this case, we may see more blocks requested, leading to the need for filtering solutions to be maintained and expanded to cope with increasing volumes of traffic. Additionally bodies such as the MPA may apply pressure on providers like BT to adapt to the measures sites use to mitigate blocking, leading to an arms race.
BT has at least stood up and ensured that the case has been challenged, where as some other providers may simply have quietly caved in, resulting in little publicity. This way people are aware of what is going on. Though now the precedent is set, copycat requests for blocking are likely to happen in an easier manner.
At the end of the day the issue is whether blocking like this is productive or not. There are some content creators who take the position that they would not have got a sale anyway from the person who has obtained the material through a less than official channel, but might get further sales or ticket sales for films/concerts in the future. The danger across the world is that in a digital world, where copies of content are of negligible cost to distribute compared to physical goods, are most blocking actions the result of distributors trying to protect an outdated model?
Alas most digital distribution channels created so far in the brave new world, follow the old pricing models, e.g. online video rental often is close to the cost of a physical DVD/Blu-ray rental. Additionally, the quality of material is invariably below that of the physical media, e.g. low bit rate MP3 files and films that are barely standard definition Freeview TV quality. A flexible approach could improve things and allow multiple price points through different rental periods or bit rates ranging from 30 Mbps down to 300 Kbps.