April 05, 2011 | Peter Bradwell

Silence from the website blocking Working Group

Ed Vaizey: CC-AT Flickr: jontintinjordan http://www.flickr.com/photos/jontintinjordan/4065621328Yesterday Ed Vaizey's website blocking 'Working Group' met to discuss a plans for a voluntary scheme to block access to websites accused of infringing copyright. It's an idea that has caused quite a stir; 2,000 people have so far written to their MPs and the terms 'The Great Firewall of Britain' and 'Hadrian's Firewall' were coined on Twitter

But despite the interest in the issue you'd be hard pressed to find out what happened, or what happens next. There has been a deafening silence from those involved. There has been no comment from the BPI, Internet Service Providers or the Government.

This is not particularly surprising. The only reason the public knows that the Working Group even exists is that we followed up rumours in the Guardian and wrote to the Minister in charge, publishing his reply.

In that reply Ed Vaizey promised to include consumer groups in future. So we can only hope that the silence this week is not indicative of the way future policy making decisions on this issue will take place, and that consumer and also rights groups will be involved as soon as possible. Further secret meetings only create more uncertainty about the intention and direction of the discussions.

We've tried to point out why we think this is an important public interest issue; it puts censorship decisions in the hands of businesses, it likely won't work, and in practice will have damaging consequences for people's rights to freedom of expression by disrupting legitimate traffic.

It is clear that the questions of accountability, oversight and due process will not be appropriately covered by a Group with such narrow membership. These are issues of broad significance that demand the light of public scrutiny not the shadows of secret Working Groups.

It is important to keep emphasising that these issues are matters of public interest, involving issues of due process and the application of fundamental rights in the UK.

You can help by writing to your MP now.

Comments (2)

  1. Simon Hopkins:
    Apr 05, 2011 at 08:44 PM

    "...it puts censorship decisions in the hands of businesses..."

    Very wrong.

    We've already seen the conflict of interest where ISP's who are also web TV / Video Content Providers have, relatively speaking, restricted competing content (greatly slowed down) through their consumer connections.

    Ofcom should have blocked the Conflict Of Interest, but chose not to (so far).

    The temptation to continue in the same vein and block completely, or slow to such a high degree that it's effectively a block may be too great, especially if competition is potentially strong.

    If "suspicion" is sufficient reason to block, then perhaps those under competitive pressure would actively hunt for the slightest excuse for "suspicion".

    In our view this is very unsafe and just like the unregulated banks, players in the industry may well sink the ship.

    because wuill effectively will be Handing these same

  2. zarathustra:
    Apr 14, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    Just received this from my MP:
    "Dear Zar

    Thank you for your e-mail concerning the possible introduction of website blocking. I apologise for the delay in my response.

    As you know, during the final stages of the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Commons, I made clear that Liberal Democrats recognised the importance of protecting the Intellectual property of the music, film, publishing and video games sectors. We are clear that the creative industries are an important part of the economic future of the country and that action does need to be taken to prevent illegal downloading of material through peer-to-peer file sharing and via illegal websites. However, we had grave reservations about the details of the proposed legislation in respect of web-blocking and so voted against the Bill.

    You rightly point to existing remedies in the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 and rights holders ability to notify and take down sites. However, these measures are very slow and do not work in all circumstances. They would not be sufficient, for example, to stop the broadcast of illicit streaming of a Champions League football match.

    But the issue, as you rightly point out, is extremely complex. Given the very professional nature of some of the interfaces on illegal websites, people are often not even aware that they are infringing copyright. So it is clear that there is need for “education” about the issue as well as the development of new business models to enable the legal access of material at reasonable prices alongside any additional legal remedies.

    Thus the coalition government is taking a cautious approach about finding a way forward.

    We have already invited Ofcom to provide advice on the matter. Their response is still awaited. Additionally the government is facilitating discussions between Internet Service Providers (ISPs), intermediaries and key rights holders to explore if there is anything that might be done on a voluntary basis.

    I hope this reassures you that the government is anxious to find a way forward that meets both the concerns of the creative industries AND consumers.

    As more information about the way forward emerges, I will welcome your comments on it.

    Rt. Hon DON FOSTER
    MP for Bath