UK Government Abandons File-Sharing Website Blocking Plans

Plans to block websites alleged to facilitate copyright infringement are to be dropped by the UK government. The announcement was made by Business secretary Vince Cable following a review by communications regulator OFCOM which found that blocking provisions in the Digital Economy Act would not be effective. Nevertheless, website blocking will be attempted, just by other means.

Outlining the government’s response to the Hargreaves report, business secretary Vince Cable today confirmed that the website blocking provisions put in place under the country’s controversial Digital Economy Act will be abandoned.

As widely predicted, a review by communications regulator OFCOM found that the plans were unworkable.

“Ofcom was also asked to consider whether the site-blocking provisions in the Digital Economy Act would work in practice,” began today’s statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

“The Act contains reserve powers to allow courts to order that websites dedicated to copyright infringement are blocked. The regulator concluded the provisions as they stand would not be effective and so the Government will not bring forward the Act’s site-blocking provisions at this time.”

While some will see the decision as a victory for common sense, it does not necessarily follow that there will be no site blocking in the UK.

As the recent MPA v BT case showed all too clearly, existing legislation (the Copyrights, Design and Patents Act) is now deemed powerful enough to carry out the same function. The ruling in that case ordered ISP BT to block all subscriber access to Usenet indexing site Newzbin2.

However, without the assistance of the now-nuked provisions of the Digital Economy Act, copyright holders may be forced to go “the long way round” to get sites blocked, i.e through the legal system and existing legislation.

But as complicated as it was, the Newzbin2 case had a number of special features (such as a previous UK court ruling against Newzbin1) which helped the case along and through to ultimate success for the MPA. Relatively speaking, future legal attempts will not be as easy.

“The MPA focus until now has been on this Newzbin case and not beyond it,” the MPA told TorrentFreak when asked about future site-blocking plans. “Although there will be other targets, no decisions have yet been made.”

“However, other rights-holders have been watching the case with interest and may well have their own target rogue sites,” the MPA concludes.

But of course, there are still ongoing discussions between the government, rights-holders and ISPs concerning the voluntary blocking of websites, something which the MPA and international music industry will be keen to pursue.

Other elements of Cable’s announcement, such as the creation of a Digital Copyright Exchange, the relaxation of laws which currently forbid UK citizens from format-shifting their own legally purchased media, and the permitting of parody works without copyright-holder permission, can be read here.

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