UK 'needs plan B' for internet piracy

Written by Clive Webster

February 25, 2011 // 12 p.m.

Tags: #digital-economy-act #digital-economy-bill #ed-vaizy #government #jeremy-hunt #piracy #politics #uk #westminster

Last night, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, communications and creative industries minister Ed Vaizey and representatives from the music business and ISPs met to discuss the controversial Section 17 of the Digital Economy Act.

Section 17 obliges ISPs to block websites that are suspected of engaging in illegal file sharing. The extremely strong wording of the section makes ISPs responsible for illegal filesharing activities, and thus vulnerable to legal action from content rights-holders. However, taking too swift and strong action would also give any erroneously blocked sites cause to sue as well.

The meeting follows Hunt's recent decision to refer Section 17 to Ofcom for review. However, The Guardian reports that the referral was seen by some rights holders as a move to dispose of the measure, and the result of last night's meeting was an agreement to 'form a working group to look at ways of making the proposed system more palatable.'

One attendee told The Guardian that ‘it is agreed that what is needed is a plan B, or at least a plan that works alongside Section 17 which would be the legal backstop.’ One proposed plan B is that rights holders indemnify ISPs from legal action taken against them due to erroneous blocking. This means that it would be up to the rights holders to ‘prove incontrovertibly that a site was illegal before getting ISPs to block them.

Among the attendees of the meeting, which included BT, Universal Music, the BPI and TalkTalk – was Google, who mentioned its plans to ‘police digital piracy searches and promote legal sources of film and music content.

A move towards better policing of the Internet should only be cautiously welcomed. The strong wording of Section 17 of the infamously controversial Digital Economy Act certainly needs to be looked at again, so we’re hoping that Ofcom can bring more practical sense to the act, rather than demanding that sites get blocked will-nilly at the merest suspicion of being a witch supporting illegal file sharing.

We’d also like to restate our stance on piracy discussions before inviting your comments, namely that linking to or asking for illegal downloads will result in bans from the forum. Similarly, anyone offering advice on how to pirate content or seen to be inciting or encouraging piracy will be banned from the forums.

Are you encouraged to see the Digital Ecomomy Act being discussed with the aim of modifying it, or do you think it will be a case of too little too late? Let us know in the forums.

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