Plans to block illegal file-sharing websites scrapped

Kevin Rawlinson
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:03

Plans to block illegal filesharing websites have been scrapped because they would “not be effective”, the Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey has announced.

The Minister has said that the provision will not be included in the Digital Economy Act (DEA). But the decision does not represent a reprieve for NewzBin, which the UK’s biggest broadband provider BT was recently ordered to block over allegations that it was facilitating illegal file sharing, a Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) source said.

The government had planned to introduce a provision for copyright holders to block sites but, earlier this year, ministers asked the media watchdog Ofcom to consider whether the powers would work in practice. In its report, Ofcom said that they would be “inflexible” and Mr Vaizey has decided “not to take them forward”.

The DCMS is understood to be “waiting to see what effect the NewzBin case will have on rights holders and consumers, before making a decision” and may resurrect the plan in future.

In the meantime, Mr Vaizey is considering other options as he tries to tackle illegal filesharing sites. Talks are thought to be ongoing with credit card companies over plans stop subscription payments to sites offering illegal downloads.

Mr Vaizey has also considered asking search engines to demote pirate sites in their results or even remove them altogether. Google, the world’s largest search engine, is usually resistant to requests to take down content but would be forced to comply, were it presented with a court order.

Mr Vaizey was speaking as part of the government’s response to the Hargreaves Report, in which ministers outlined plans to allow consumers to legally transfer copyrighted material across formats and exempt parodies from copyright rules.

His department also laid out how it will notify those believed to be downloading illegal material. Under the Digital Economy Act, letters will be sent to “internet account holders when their internet connection has been identified as linked to unlawfully shared copyright material”.

There will be a £20 charge for those wanting to appeal, a fee which will be refunded “if the appeal is successful”, a spokesman said.

Among the projects announced by ministers on Thursday were plans to set up a Digital Copyright Exchange, on which licences in copyright content can be bought and sold. Professor Hargreaves’ report predicted the plan could be worth as much as £2bn per year to the economy by 2020. “A feasibility study will now begin to establish how such an exchange will look and work”, the government said.

Plans to establish “licensing and clearance procedures for orphan works” (material with unknown copyright owners) were also announced. Ministers said this would “open up a range of works that are currently locked away in libraries and museums and unavailable for consumer or research purposes”.

Mr Vaizey said: “We need a copyright system fit for the digital age. Creating these new exceptions to copyright will enable innovators to develop new products and services.

“But it is essential that businesses have the right tools to protect their hard work and investment in the digital age.

“The UK’s creative industries are a key part of our economy but online copyright infringement poses a real threat to their continued success.

“Our creative industries must be able to protect their products and the Digital Economy Act will help them do that.”