UK government drops site-blocking

Ofcom policy review leads to rethink of copyright laws and some measure of sanity


The UK government's still happy for sites like Newszbin2 to be blocked by ISPs, but only when ordered by a court

Reports from Open Rights Group and Boing Boing earlier this year confirmed that the UK government was deep in discussions to erect a national firewall. The plans would have enabled, claimed Open Rights Group, site-blocking "on a self-regulatory basis where vital judicial oversight is bypassed".

According to the BBC, these plans have now been shelved, in part due to a policy review by Ofcom and objections from ISPs regarding content owners effectively being able to force site-blocks. The article quotes business secretary Vince Cable as saying the originally drafted laws were "not tight" and he points to the recent Newzbin2 case as an alternate means to battle rights infringement, but in court.

In that case, BT was ordered to block Newzbin2 after a case was brought by six Hollywood studios. Mr Justice Arnold judged that BT had knowledge that Newzbin2 infringed copyright and also that its subscribers had infringed copyright. While the case has proved controversial — there are claims it will result in a slew of similar cases, and those infringing rights will be able to workaround blocks anyway — BT wasn't alone in stating that it at least showed "rights holders need to prove their claims and convince a judge to make a court order" (ZDNet).

The change of heart from government over site-blocking is one of three related common-sense incidents reported over the past 24 hours. TorrentFreak revealed lawyers responsible for speculative invoicing, sending letters to thousands of users they claimed to have carried out file-sharing, have been fined and banned from practising for three months. Meanwhile, Sky News reports that the UK government also plans to drag the country's outdated copyright laws out of the 1980s, finally legalising format shifting. As noted in the Sky News report, this could open the way for Google, Amazon and others to release online music-storage systems in the UK.