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UK Govt to Debate if Site Blocking Even "Possible"


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Ofcom plans to review Digital Economy Act to see if provision requiring ISPs to block sites accused of copyright infringement "could work in practice," and also how easy it would be for site operators and users to circumvent it.

The UK's Office of Communications (Ofcom) has announced that it plans to review the sections of the Digital Economy Act that require ISPs to block access to "online locations" if a "substantial portion" of that location infringes copyright.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked Ofcom to review the provision to determine if website blocking was even "possible."

"The Government is committed to creating the right conditions for businesses to grow," he said. "That includes providing them with the right tools to protect the products of their hard-work and investment."

He stressed the importance of the creative economy and its economic contribution, but sadly used industry-based estimates of its losses to get the point across. The actual figure of losses is likely much lower since copyright holders routinely claim a 1:1 lost sale ratio to make losses seem much higher and the problem therefore much greater.

"I have no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content," he added. "But it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice so I have asked Ofcom to address this question."

And he's right. If a totalitarian regime like China can't block access to illegal websites 100% of the time then what kind of success ratio can the UK hope to have, and at what percentage would the govt have to admit failure? 80%? 50%? 30%? Between tools like VPNs, proxies, and Tor Internet users can bypass ISP-level filters with ease.

"Before we consider introducing site-blocking we need to know whether these measures are possible," said Hunt.

I think we can all agree that they aren't.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg added that the review was intended to determine if the govt had the "right tools" to tackle online piracy, and that Ofcom will see if site filtering is "workable."

"We will await the conclusions of this work before we take a decision about the way forward," he said.

Some of the things Ofcom will consider include:

1. The terms of reference for the Ofcom assessment are:2. Is it possible for access to the site to be blocked by internet service providers?

3. How robust would such a block be – in other words would it have the intended effect, and how easy would it be to circumvent for most site operators?

4. What measures might be adopted by internet service providers to prevent such circumvention?

5. How granular can blocking be – i.e. can specific parts of the site be blocked, how precise can this be, and how effective?

6. How effective are sections 17 and 18 of the Act in providing for an appropriate method of generating lists of sites to be blocked?

7. If possible, identify either a potential range of costs for ISP blocking solutions or the main drivers of those costs.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has made it clear that site blocking is "essential" to fighting online piracy.

"The BPI continues to believe that measures to prevent access to illegal websites are essential if Britain's creative and technology sectors are to fulfil their growth potential," it says. "Many of these websites are located outside the UK and exist solely to profit at the expense of artists and creators, threatening British jobs and investment. We will engage closely with Ofcom's Review and make the case for an effective mechanism to deal with illegal non-P2P downloading."

By "non-P2P downloading" it surely means cyberlockers, the increasingly more popular form of illegal file-sharing, but the problem is is that some of them are quite legal in the country where they're based.

Does the UK really want to set the precedent of blocking erstwhile legal sites? The move could be seized upon by Iran and other totalitarian regimes looking for an excuse to block sites they don't approve of. It's the same criticism expressed by opponents of simialr legislation under conisdered in the US

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