Joint letter to rights holders

Minister Ed Vaizey held another meeting about website blocking on Monday 4th April, again involving ISPs and rights holders. We wrote shortly afterwards of the silence that followed this meeting.

We now believe that rights holders have been tasked with drawing up more detailed plans for the proposed scheme for ISPs and the government to look at.

Website blocking is a matter of significant public interest. We’re concerned that proposals for this censorship scheme are developing in the shadows. So together with Article 19, Index on Censorship, and Global Partners we’re asking that the rights holders involved make the proposals public as soon as possible. They should be subject to a proper open debate.

We’ve also put in a Freedom of Information request for the details of previous meetings and correspondence on this issue, and we’ll post what we get back. You can view the request here – it is currently on hold pending a public interest test.

Many of you have passed on the letters that MPs have been sending in reply to people’s concerns about this proposed scheme (such as the reply from Don Foster, posted in the comments to our previous post). It seems from the government sees itself as a facilitator in these discussions and that they are waiting for the conclusions of the Ofcom report into the technical feasability of blocking. Ed Vaizey has also promised us that consumer groups will be incuded in future discussions on the issue.

So there is hope that with careful exploration of the issues involved the government will recognise just how problematic such a voluntary scheme for website blocking is.

Here is the letter we sent to the BPI (the same letter was sent to the other rights holders involved). We’ll let you know how they respond, if and when they do.

Dear Geoff,

We understand that the BPI met with ISPs, Internet companies and government minister Ed Vaizey on Monday 4th April to discuss a private website blocking proposal in order to combat online copyright infringement.

As advocacy, consumer and public interest organisations, we are very concerned by this proposal. Website blocking is a form of censorship. Where decisions about blocking are unaccountable and when mistakes occur, there is the potential for infringement of citizens’ freedom of expression. Furthermore, such schemes jeopardise people’s rights to due process and the broader need for oversight and accountability.

In short, website blocks, if widespread and compulsory for the vast majority of UK citizens, is a law enforcement task. It is a function of wide public interest affecting fundamental rights. It is therefore an activity that should be subject to human rights considerations and an open public debate.

For these reasons, we are extremely keen to have early sight of any proposals being put forward to Internet Service Providers, government officials and ministers.

We understand that your organization is involved in drafting such a private website blocking proposal. We would like you to confirm that you will publicly release any such proposals as soon as you circulate them for comment from government and ISPs. We are also sending this request to UK Music, The Publishers Association, the FA Premier League and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Thank you,

Agnes Callamard           
Executive Director           
Article 19

Andrew Puddephatt
Global Partners

Jo Glanville
Index on Censorship

Jim Killock
Executive Director
Open Rights Group