June 22, 2011 | Peter Bradwell

Rights holders' proposed voluntary website blocking scheme

From these links you can access what looks like the proposals for a voluntary website blocking scheme, apparently put forward by the Rightsholder Group engaged in Minister Ed Vaizey's roundtable discussions with ISPs and others.

The documents, sent to James Firth's blog, set out a dangerous voluntary scheme that would involve 'expedited court procedures' and a 'balance' between evidence and speed of action. Definitions of what content is to be judged blockable is scarce. References to exactly how such blocking would work, and the consequences, are non-existent. The case for blocking is left unmade, with no analysis about the effects of such measures. There is cursory reference to the rule of law and proper oversight. The proposal, if it is the genuine proposal, adds up to a dangerous revocation of the rule of law where lobby groups would decide what you are allowed to see and read.

This is why the UN Special Rapporteur sounded his 'alarm' at measures such as this so recently. And this is why we are asking people to write to their MP to request they sign EDM 1913, which calls for the government to take on board what the UN have said and reconsider the Digital Economy Act and its many proposed website blocking schemes.

We support James Firth in revealing what look to be the substantive details of these discussions. It is critical that policy making happens through a broad and open public debate, especially on matters that so tangibly affect rights such as access to information and freedom of expression. This is not simply about the rights of 'sites that facilitate infringement' or those running them. It is about the processes through which decisions are made about what you are allowed to see and do. Clumsy, quasi-judicial and unaccountable website blocking is dangerous for exactly that reason. And that is why we support James, and are making the documents available here for you to consider and debate.

We would like confirmation from the government that these are genuine proposals which they are actively considering. We would also like to know what steps they will be taking to consider the views of organisations such as Open Rights Group, and those others who recently wrote to rights holders expressing their concern and requesting such proposals are made public.

So far these discussions have involved only rightsholders and Internet companies. Only the most recent meeting involved a consumer rights representative, Consumer Focus. (As Jim blogged yesterday, Consumer Focus' response to the proposals they discussed is here). This is a welcome concession. But open policy making that takes on board the broadest range of views is not something within the gift of politicians but a responsibility they bear.

If you would like to get involved, please write to your MP now and ask them to sign EDM 1913, proposed by the MPs Julian Huppert, Tom Watson, Robert Halfon and Eric Joyce. The EDM calls on the government to note the damning UN report as it considers the Digital Economy Act and these website blocking proposals. Help maintain the pressure that is mounting on these ill-considered measures.

Comments (28)

  1. Blaine Price:
    Jun 22, 2011 at 02:39 PM

    There is a bit of a tiny bug in the script that auto selects your MP and pre-fills the un-editable subject line. My MP is a member of the goverment so he can't sign EDMs as the subject line asks. I have asked him to write to Ed Vaizey on my behalf. Maybe make the subject line, salutation and sign off also editable? I have written to my MP often enough to address him by his first name.

    1. Ben:
      Jun 23, 2011 at 05:33 PM

      My MP said the same, but he has offered to forward the concerns to Ed Vaizey.

  2. Jeff Licchelli:
    Jun 23, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    I've already written to my MP and the reply I got back from her was to say she is in favour of censoring the internet. As far as my MP is concerned a law to restrict access to "criminal or obscene" sites outweighs any right to free access. She wasn't able to tell me who would decide what is "criminal" or "obscene". My waste of time MP is a Conservative and no I didn't vote for her.

    1. Jim Killock:
      Jun 23, 2011 at 12:25 PM

      Hi Jeff, it would be great to have her reply, especially on our wiki!

    2. Ryan Jendoubi:
      Jun 28, 2011 at 09:59 PM

      I'd like to see that reply too (as long as publishing a letter received from your MP isn't any kind of breach of confidence).

      Exasperating as it might be, these are the views we really need to engage with and argue against.

  3. Aidan Fitzpatrick:
    Jun 23, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    My MP is Paul Maskey - West Belfast - Sinn Fein.
    As he would be required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen... he is prevented from taking his seat in Westminster.

    Im unsure of how effective writing to him about the Digital Economy act would be :S

  4. Anonymous:
    Jun 23, 2011 at 11:38 PM

    This has to be a nightmare... No, it's the reality.

    Honestly, this is complete bullshit, they want to take away the freedom people have of surfing the internet?

    They're going to block all websites and only leave the British ones open? Pathetic.

    1. Andy:
      Jun 29, 2011 at 08:41 AM

      Welcome to the new China :)

  5. Mindless Slave:
    Jun 24, 2011 at 02:54 AM

    George Orwell just missed on the exact date, I suppose.

    It wasn't 1984 afterall, it's more like 2004.

  6. Fred:
    Jun 24, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    It is for legislators like this, those who have no idea that the Internet is a global entity and applying country centric laws to it just will not work, that we have built Jumpto. Jumpto is a piece of software that when you install it on your PC will make your internet connection secure, private and anonymous. We even have a country location setting that will allow you to view content from the point of view of (as soon as we get servers everywhere) ANY country. Best of all, the software is free. Please check us out at http://www.jumpto.com and don't worry.

  7. Paul Finlay:
    Jun 25, 2011 at 05:07 PM

    Oh, another government idea entirely transcendant of any intelligence....

    I'm starting to see a pattern here.

  8. HuwOS:
    Jun 25, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    I sent the email to my MP on 22/6,
    he replied to me on 24/6
    pointing out that he had signed the EDM on the 15/6
    Slightly embarassing for me and no doubt irritating for him.
    I guess it makes sense to check who has already signed before sending an email asking them to sign

  9. Anonymous:
    Jun 27, 2011 at 01:58 AM

    cough *encyopediadramatica* cough *tornetwork* cough

    Time to get the ol' DDOS attack software ready.

  10. David:
    Jun 27, 2011 at 03:40 PM

    my MP. replied this, and am happy about it :)

    " Thank you for your email regarding the EDM 'disconnection of users from then internet'. I can assure you I have signed the EDM and I am in favour of it. I will table a question on this topic to the Secretary of state, hoping to raise awareness of this issue.

    If I can be of any further assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact me.


    Yours sincerely,

    Barry Sheerman"

  11. Ryan Jendoubi:
    Jun 29, 2011 at 02:08 AM

    I'm going to write a letter instead of sending an email. My MP deserves it.

    I read the leaked document, and I have to say that for a long way through it I wasn't sure if I was going to support this particular call to arms. I think the Rightsholders have valid concerns. And as much as it highlights industry incompetence, I do Not think that the lack of "legitimate offers in the marketplace, adapted to the changing opportunities provided by digital technology" in any way justifies rights violations. If you don't want to pay, you thank the Lord for capitalism, vote with your cash and listen to / watch / play something else; you don't just steal (I use the word as a convenient if inaccurate verb).

    In the end I have to oppose the proposal because of its vagueness on substantive issues of process and protection, and because of its blatant emasculation of judicial process. But I really think we ought to take what's there, apply as much red pen to it as we feel necessary, and send back a positive alternative. "Change your business model grandad" isn't a mature response.

  12. JD:
    Jun 29, 2011 at 09:43 AM

    @Ryan Jendoubi

    I in no way condone illegal acts by either party but your comment "Change your business model grandad" isn't a mature response." is incorrect!

    Try revising the history of just this industry, the Media industry (there are others also now trying to stymy innovation. :(). When any industry tries to maintain its once dominant position by retarding progress & passing extra costs on to their Customer base & society in general then the model "is unhappily broken"!

    For example:-

    1. Ryan Jendoubi:
      Jun 29, 2011 at 10:34 AM

      Fair point; I expressed myself poorly. I'm not saying "change your business model" isn't a great idea. Like I said, pointing out market failure does help highlight real industry incompetence. I'm just saying that it's not a real answer to what to do about people infringing copyright right now.

      The content industries are under no obligation to innovate. They should be allowed to die slowly if they want to. But in the meantime I don't think people should be able to get away with infringing their property rights.

      Look at it this way: if I created some music to sell on CD (which I have done before) I would be Pissed Right Off if someone said to me "Well, you should be on bandcamp.com 'n' stuff but you're not, so, I'm just gonna take your stuff without paying, yeah?" Of course, I have a clue, so if I was doing music today I'd do it right. But I'm not under an obligation to do that, and I shouldn't lose my rights if I don't.

  13. JD:
    Jun 29, 2011 at 01:16 PM

    @Ryan Jendoubi

    Rights and wrongs aside because a general blame culture gets no-one anywhere.

    You could also argue that the absence of involvement of certain Major Contributors/Players in this Online Market is inevitably seriously distorting it! :(

  14. coresa:
    Jun 29, 2011 at 09:36 PM

    I sometimes think our MP's are more worried about their jobs not whats right or fair.

    I think the issue that annoys me is the details of this scheme have never been communicated to us. I am a tax payer and have been contributing (like all tax payers have) to the growth and expansion of the "Internet" and service providers for 18+ years.

    I think we are entitled to have a say in this matter, perhaps a public vote?

    If they want to blame somebody perhaps they can start on the big movie and music labels that charge rediculously high prices for their content. Downloadable content in the UK is more expensive than at your local video store. Revise your prices and the piracy will go down.

  15. Anon:
    Jun 30, 2011 at 08:14 PM

    I'm all for protecting children online, but if pornographic sites were all pay-per-view the kids wouldn't have any access, as they don't have credit cards. Vaizey is handing more control to the ISPs, which is beyond their remit. The Internet must remain free!

  16. Ace:
    Jul 01, 2011 at 01:31 AM

    Even if everybody agreed about copywright and that the government could be trusted not to use this ruling to enforce censorship on peoples right to free speech (and obviously thats precisely what it will do it's not going to do something like this to make everybody think they're a bunch of Nazi's for no reason).

    Restriction of ilegal download content would leave the poorest in society bored and then lead to a HUGE upsurge in crime that the police simply could not cope with, it would be massive and it would be unlike anything else seen in living memory. Not to mention teenage pregnancies.

    On top of that you would be creating discontent at the same time as people suddenly find themselves with time on their hands. But frankly I'm sick of Capitalism I hope they do it.

    1. Ryan Jendoubi:
      Jul 03, 2011 at 10:50 AM

      ... or we could continue work on the democratising of content and connectivity and expand people's access to alternative / independent content which is reasonably priced and probably a good deal fresher than most things the Industry churns out these days.

      Plus, I don't accept that if we see the proper enforcement of property rights then "the poorest of society" won't be able to think of anything better to do than fornicate and fight ;-) Fact is the machines we use to consume content can just as easily be used to create it, especially by the young. For the working / older / less creative people, maybe it'll encourage them to venture off their sofas and into their community again and go some way to reversing the 'Bowling Alone' phenomenon.

      Optimists ftw \o/ :p

  17. Anon:
    Jul 04, 2011 at 05:10 PM

    One thing's for sure: We're going backwards when we need to be going forwards. Other countries may continue to explore the new technologies available online. We may never recover, and may even become a poorer country. We are already over-loaded with unskilled labour from the continent. Employers are no longer giving jobs to the English, as the alternative is cheaper and works harder, allegedly. The Internet is where we need to explore and expand - take that away and we quickly become inferior.

  18. dinelson:
    Jul 04, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    Voluntary website blocking is an interesting idea.

  19. Anon:
    Jul 05, 2011 at 07:26 PM

    You've got a point, Di. If I were a professional musician I would want to earn a living from my art. There is no reason why we should expect them to work for nothing. However, after the music has been available for ten years it probably won't add any more revenue. Therefore, it becomes a freebie promotional tool for the artist. There are some exceptions of course: Led Zep, Pink Floyd, etc. We don't see super groups as much now, though. I'm worried about Terrestrial's negative impact on Cyber Space. The artist should be able to prove ownership without the need for copyright. This system allows business the chance to take revenue from the artist as 'protection.' It should be fairly obvious whom the artist actually is in those cases where ownership comes into question. Artists must earn the full revenue from their work, but not by changing or modifying the Internet space. A lot of business is now conducted on the 'Net,' and slight manipulations, and the protection of rights, could cause untold damage in terms of business confidence - leading us into a worse recession than the one we have just suffered. It's best left alone.

  20. Anon:
    Jul 06, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    ...There has always been a problem with copyright. Remember bootleg vinyl? The industry has never got on top of the problem. Proposed changes to the law will hand a monopoly to certain corporations who seek to control Internet business. Damaging Cyber Space is like chopping down all the trees.

  21. Lewis Wynne-jones:
    Jul 06, 2011 at 07:16 PM

    I've gotten a letter from my MP and I believe he is happy to support against the private company's censoring our internet. The MP's name is Albert Owen.