Ed Vaizey talks about website blocking

Today ORG and a number of other groups had a constructive meeting with Ed Vaizey to discuss approaches to copyright and enforcement. The meeting was organized by Dominque Lazinksi of the Tax Payers Alliance after a Twitter storm following ORG and other group’s exclusion from the website blocking meetings.

Given Jeremy Hunt’s recent statements and the ongoing meetings about website blocking, this was a very urgent and important meeting. Ed Vaizey started the meeting by stating that the concerns of mums and dads, important industries and consumers were the most important for him politically.

For ORG, I added that the choices of artists, citizens and civil society were also important in these debates. I went on to outline what we feel is necessary at this point:

1 Evidence

If the new Communications Bill contains new measures aimed at reducing copyright infringement, the government should ask itself:

1.     What evidence does it have about the problems it seeks to address.

2.     What methodologies were used to produce this evidence, and is the public allowed to examine these

3.     Does the government have independent evidence, or is it commissioning it, perhaps through the Intellectual Property Office

At this point, we expect that most of the evidence about websites and copyright infringement is anecdotal, or comes from industry. Whatever it is, the government should share it with the public.

2 Options

Does the government understand the options it has to deal with the problems it believes exist with websites and copyright infringement? Or is it being asked to implement new chosen solutions favoured by industry lobbyists? We note that there are two market-based approaches which are highly important

1.     Market solutions: supply. Markets can improve the supply of products to market, which generally reduces infringement by out-competing the naff, inconvenient, under-capitalised infringing services

2.     Market solutions: enforcement. Private actors have a range of notification, take-down and court processes they can use. Are these being used properly? We note that, despite complaints about foreign enforcement, most of the sites that are complained about are based in EU or US countries where enforcement should not be a problem.

3 Impacts

These fall broadly into two categories:

1.     Impacts on rights and free speech: these are the greatest concern to ORG and our supporters, when legitimate material is removed by error or over-zealous enforcement. With copyright takedowns, this is all too common

2.     Impacts on markets: if copyright enforcement is too strict, it poses risks to innovation. Enforcement comes at the cost of economic duties and burdens, especially for sites with user generated content – that is, all those that are useful.

4 Open debate

A number of organizations made pleas for more open debate, and open proposals.

LINX added that website blocking proposals, whatever their efficacy, should be halted until the current court powers have had time to be understood and develop case law.

Representatives from Open Digital, Coadec, the Featured Artists Coalition, the Pirate Party, Timico made further points concerning the IP balance, the inefficacy of website blocking, the need to encourage new digital companies rather than serve the interests of encumbants, and the perspectives of artists who are partciularly worried about net neutrality and the power of the dominant music businesses.

What about the website blocking proposals?

The meeting was not able to consider the rights holders’ proposals at the meeting, because they are not yet published. Consumer Focus and others have seen them: and they remain very worrying, although possibly so badly thought out that they are unlikely to see the light of day.

Nevertheless, we must see these proposals for what they are: a lobbying tactic to keep the pressure on enforcement and control, rather than market failure.

The task for ORG and others interested in user rights and the potential of the digital world has to be to set out another agenda, that works in societies’ interests, rather than just those of IP owners. We will be working with the organisations who attended today to make this happen.

UPDATE: blogs from Trevor Davies of Timico, and James Firth from Open Digital