Consumer group reveals web-blocking plans

A consumer rights group has blasted proposals to block websites carrying pirated content, as laid out in a document handed to the Department for Culture, Music and Sport.

Consumer Focus attended a Government meeting about the site-blocking plans, saying a group of rights holders presented their proposals for a system aimed at beating piracy to Communications Minister Ed Vaizey behind closed doors.

The details have not been made public, but Consumer Focus said the rights holders were proposing that the Applications Court of the High Court issue permanent injunctions against copyright-infringing websites on the basis that a “council” and “expert body” believed the evidence submitted by copyright owners showed blocking a site was appropriate.

We do not believe that it is appropriate for two non-judicial bodies to broadly interpret existing case law, effectively establish new copyright law, and direct the Applications Court to issue a permanent injunction, without a trial

There are no details of how the two panels would be made up, but the importance of the proposals mean they could have wide-ranging impacts on civil law, Consumer Focus said, and should be discussed in public – not merely agreed between industry lobby groups and Government.

“These proposals are a significant regulatory intervention and require at the very least significant changes to the Civil Procedure Rules,” the group said. “As such they should be publicly consulted on and evidence based.”

The alliance behind the working paper, Addressing websites that are substantially focused on infringement, included the Publishers Association, the BPI, the Football Association Premier League and the Motion Picture Alliance.

Cost effective?

The plans also came under fire for costs and the potential upheaval they could cause ISPs and users.

“The cost of the proposed scheme is not indicated, but is likely to be substantial, including the running cost of two non-judicial independent bodies and the cost to ISPs of permanently blocking websites,” Consumer Focus said.

According to the group, plans to block certain sites would inevitably risk degrading internet services, knocking speed and network reliability, and could lead to higher broadband prices.

Consumer Focus also argued the system would make it too easy for websites to be closed down based on the word of two undisclosed panels, with little concrete case law to guide them.

“Consumer Focus is concerned that the court is supposed to rubber stamp a decision by two non-judicial bodies, on the basis of ‘general support’ in case law for the concept of ‘websites substantially focused on infringement’,” the group’s response said.

“We do not believe that it is appropriate for two non-judicial bodies to broadly interpret existing case law, effectively establish new copyright law, and direct the Applications Court to issue a permanent injunction, without a trial.”

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