In December last year it became publicly known that the movie industry had begun the first practical steps to having a file-sharing related website blocked at the ISP level in the UK.
In reality the MPAA’s steps against Usenet indexing site Newzbin had begun much earlier, first with prolonged action through the civil legal system and then a reassessment once it had become apparent that the site, now called Newzbin2, had been resurrected against all odds.
Earlier this month it was revealed that Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had asked communications watchdog Ofcom to look at whether website blocking in general, as allowed in theory by last year’s passing of the Digital Economy Act, could actually work.
Ofcom is expected to report back during the spring, but in the meantime The Guardian is reporting today that the entertainment industries are revving up their blocking preparations in advance of a favorable outcome.
Rightsholders from the music and movie industries are said to have identified 100 websites which they would like blocked, including The Pirate Bay and file-hosting or so-called ‘cyberlocker’ sites. Perhaps predictably Newzbin2 is also on the list along with the lesser-known Movieberry and Free Movies Online 4 You.
Acceptance of a voluntary code under discussion would mean that ISPs would receive evidence of unauthorized file-sharing from rightsholders and then take action to block the sites in question.
A source at government meetings told The Guardian that site-blocking is preferable to sending out infringement notices to subscribers since that process is likely to be laborious and expensive.
“We’re more interested in site blocking. We don’t want to target end users, [the mass notification system] is long winded – we want something now,” said the source.
So which of these 100 proposed sites will we be familiar with? While there will be some surprises, it seems likely that those that have appeared on the recent “most notorious pirate markets” will be at the forefront.
Undoubtedly some of the Russian AllofMP3 replacement pay-to-download portals will be high on the list as these have long been a thorn in the music industry’s side. On the BitTorrent indexing front we already know about The Pirate Bay and it’s likely they will be joined isoHunt, BTjunkie, Kickasstorrents and Torrentz.
Sites with trackers such as Demonoid, RUTracker and Zamunda will also make an appearance. However, getting authorization to block pure trackers such as OpenBitTorrent and PublicBT may prove a step too far, since these sites have no search engines, no readable filenames and no torrents.
Nevertheless, even Ofcom says that site blocking is feasible, it’s unlikely any steps taken by ISPs will stop the really determined from accessing illicit music and movies. But crucially it may stop the casual downloader in his tracks – which is admittedly a sizeable proportion of file-sharers – so this may prove enough for the entertainment industries. For now at least.