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UK government considers simplifying anti-piracy web-blocks

By | Published on Wednesday 24 October 2018


The UK government’s Intellectual Property Office has announced that it is looking into simplifying the process for instigating web-blocks against copyright infringing websites.

Web-blocking is, of course, a preferred anti-piracy tactic of the entertainment industry. Rights owners secure injunctions that force internet service providers to block their customers from accessing piracy websites. The blockades are usually pretty easy to circumvent, but copyright owners reckon they are nevertheless a useful tactic in the wider battle against online piracy.

Whether web-blocking is an option in any one country will depend on the local copyright regime. In some countries copyright law has been amended to allow web-blocks. In others, like the UK, the courts decided that they had the power to instigate blockades against copyright infringing websites under existing laws.

The actual process for securing a web-block also varies from country to country. Usually web-blocks are issued by a court of law and therefore some kind of legal proceedings will be required first. However, some countries have looked into simplifying the process so that a government agency has web-blocking powers. Such a system is sometimes referred to as “administrative site blocking”.

In a statement on Monday, the IPO confirmed that the UK government was now considering “the evidence for and potential impact of administrative site blocking – as opposed to requiring a high court injunction in every case – as well as identifying the mechanisms through which administrative site blocking could be introduced”.

The creation of some sort of web-blocking agency was proposed earlier this year in Canada where some leading ISPs have been promoting web-blocks as a practical anti-piracy tool. That would have involved the creation of an Independent Piracy Review Agency that would manage a list of piracy websites that should be blocked. It would report into the country’s Federal Court of Appeal, but would have administrative blocking powers at first instance.

Those proposals were considered by Canada’s media and telecommunications regulator CRTC, but earlier this month it decided that it didn’t have the power to instigate such an agency under existing telecoms laws. However, the ISPs behind the proposal are now floating something similar as part of the Canadian’s governments ongoing review of copyright law in the country.

Back in the UK, it will be interesting to see whether the IPO concludes that new laws will be required to allow web-blocking without a court order. Opponents of web-blocking argue that government agencies shouldn’t have such powers, because that power could be abused without judicial oversight.

However, even with administrative site blocking there would usually be a route of appeal for targeted sites. Plus, most of the time when web-blocking injunctions are sought through the courts, targeted sites make no effort to defend themselves, their liability for copyright infringement of one form or another usually being pretty uncontroversial.

The IPO’s announcement on possibly simplifying the web-blocking process in the UK came as part of a wider statement on the sale of internet TV devices that come preloaded with apps that provide easy access to unlicensed streaming content. The sale of such devices has become the top piracy gripe of late for the TV and sports industries in the UK.

The government’s IP minister, Sam Gyimah, said that he thought recent successful prosecutions of individuals involved in the supply of such devices was proof that current laws could deal with the problem. However, he said that further education, of both the public and trading standards officers, would be pursued, in addition to considering new anti-piracy measures like the administrative site blocking.