Government drops website blocking

Internet router The Digital Economy Act contains provisions to cut off websites that broke copyright law

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Plans to block websites that host copyright infringing material are to be dumped by the government.

Business secretary Vince Cable announced the change following a review of the policy by telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Website blocking was one of the key provision contained in the Digital Economy Act.

Internet Service Providers had objected to the idea that copyright owners could compel them to cut off some sites.

In the past week, the Motion Picture Association - a group representing film studios - successfully applied for a court injunction requiring BT to block access to an infringing website called Newzbin2.

The action was taken without using the Digital Economy Act, prompting some observers to question the need for the legislation.

Speaking to the BBC, Vince Cable appeared to suggest that the Newzbin2 case had opened up other legal avenues.

"We've discovered that the drafting of the original laws, which took place a year or so ago, were not tight.

"There are test cases being fought in the courts, so we're looking at other ways of achieving the same objective, the blocking objective to protect intellectual property in those cases, but in a way that's legally sound."

The government's decision to drop the DEA's blocking provision was criticised by UK Music, the body which represents musicians and record labels in the UK.

Its chief executive, Fergal Sharkey said: "Who wants to tell the 80% of music businesses that employ fewer than five people, and the thousands of artists who self-finance the production of their own albums, that to enjoy the protection of the law, all they need now is to have millions of pounds and spend years in court to protect their work."

Legal ripping

Mr Cable also announced a raft of measures intended to update the UK's copyright laws.

The changes are based on the Hargreaves Review which was set up to examine current legislation's fitness for purpose in the digital age.

One of the most significant recommendations that the government plans to implement is the legalisation of "format shifting" - where users rip content from CDs or DVDs for their own personal use.

"We are talking about big changes," said Mr Cable.

"Bringing the laws more up-to-date to have a proper balance which allows consumers and businesses to operate more freely, but at the same time protect genuinely creative artists and penalise pirates."

The business secretary said the economy would benefit by £8bn over the next few years by updating the legislation.

'Not very good law'

Millions of people regularly convert movies on DVDs and music on CDs into a format that they can move around more easily, although most do not realise that it is technically illegal.

"The review pointed out that if you have a situation where 90% of your population is doing something, then it's not really a very good law," said Simon Levine, head of the intellectual property and technology group at DLA Piper.

Business Secretary, Vince Cable: "We've got to bring law in line with reality"

Legalising non-commercial copying for private use would bring the UK into line with many other nations and also meet the "reasonable expectations" of consumers, said the government.

The change would not make it legal to make copies and then share them online.

The legal anomaly preventing personal "ripping" was one of many identified by Professor Ian Hargreaves in the review as stifling innovation.

One technology caught out by the law was the Brennan JB7 music player that lets owners copy their CDs onto a hard drive that can be accessed from around their home.

The Advertising Standards Authority demanded that Brennan advise customers that using the JB7 breaks the law.


Some legal experts believe that the acceptance of format shifting, combined with relaxations on manipulating works for the purpose of parody, paved the way for creative people to use content in different ways.

Susan Hall, a media specialist at law firm Cobbetts LLP, said the changes would give many artists "room to breathe" and remove the nervousness they might feel when using another work as inspiration.

One example that would be tolerated under the new regime is the Welsh rap song Newport State of Mind which was based on Jay Z and Alicia Keys' song Empire State of Mind.

Still from Dr Who, BBC Greater leniency around copyright could produce more works such as Doctor Who, some argue

Despite winning many fans on YouTube, the track was removed following a copyright claim by EMI. It is still available on other websites.

"There are all sorts of things that are genuine artistic works which are nevertheless based on parody, caricature and pastiche," said Ms Hall.

Updated laws on copyright could have a profound effect on the popular culture that can be created, albeit one that was hard to measure, she added.

One example is that of Doctor Who writers Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat who wrote fan fiction about the time lord earlier in their careers.

Such creative synergies could become more common in a more tolerant copyright climate, suggested Ms Hall.

"Rights holders are often very nervous about things like this but when you come down to it, it's the people that buy everything who also go to the trouble of writing and creating more," she said.

"It's about riffing off, not passing off."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    If I recall correctly a similar argument was put forward when the whole issue of people recording using their VCRs came up. Again it was technically illegal but considered "unenforcable".

    I do like the sound of fan fiction finally being considered quasi legal

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    until Britain gets the same tv shows, music and films releases as america on the same days without delay this is the right course of action for the government to be taking. However when that comes about, and it will as it is the solution to the piracy and illegality of streaming/downloading media issue, legislation should be passed to combat it. The fact is media is too expensive to buy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    My god!

    This country might actually be worth fighting and dying for!

    A genuinely surprised very cynical citizen of Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Or is it without quotation marks, quotes are just the words of others you have copied?

    Just like zeroes and ones.

    Which company should I blame, Lynn?

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    361. Lynn
    'Without patents, innovation cannot be called "innovation".'
    That means that the wheel was not an innovation because it was not patented.

    is the internet an "innovation"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    358. Lynn
    "I don’t want to be rude. However, I have made my points quite clear.
    Please put your focuses on legislations applicable on companies."
    Clear, impractical and blaming anyone except the illegal copier. Personal responsibility!

    Any and every digital product is copiable. The 1s and 0s can be copied. That will always be the case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.


    I can’t see the evidences you mentioned of “patents hamper innovation”.

    Without patents, innovation cannot be called "innovation".

    I am sorry to say that I disagree with you. I think that you are abusing the word “innovation”.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    @357. Lynn

    With an estimated 80-90% of software patents being invalid and yet as they are cheaper to licence than fight the companies that own them make money form them, how can that be a good system. Also many small companies do not use patents they have found cheaper and more effective ways to protect their products. Patents hamper innovation and do not help. There is much evidence for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Who can be surprised that the Digital Economy Act has been found to be badly written, when Peter Mandleson rushed and pushed it through parliament in the dying hours of the last government.

    I have always questioned why, of all legislation, this one was expedited. There was no political sense to it, and it has always had the odour to me of political corruption

    Maybe one day we'll see if I'm right

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    355. Phosgene

    I don’t want to be rude. However, I have made my points quite clear.

    Please put your focuses on legislations applicable on companies.

    Your question seems to imply employees’ mentality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    345 coolblue3000.
    I know how expensive patent application is. That is why patents deserve more protection than copy-rights.

    It is quite true what you said. It is difficult for small companies/individuals to fight an invalid patent owned by a large corporation. However, those small companies/individuals without owning patents can be even more easily crushed like bugs by large corporations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    349. john33
    "The myth, and it is a complete myth, is that an illegal download equals a lost sale. This is unadulterated nonsense. There is no proof a single penny was ever lost!"
    There is proof that Sumlock Games and Imagine both stopped trading when kids were copying their games in tape instead of paying for them.

    You're wrong and there is no proof your silly claim is correct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    320. Lynn
    "Unprotected music/film products are not in good quality for customers to use. The e-shops should be made responsible."
    Two points:
    1.e-products are are binary data (zeroes and ones) and are therefore ALWAYS going to be copyable.
    2. You shift responsibility onto a shop and not the individual. That's like blaming Xerox for what I choose to copy..

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    @347. Mister Crowley - is that the same British Way of honesty, truth and justice that sees quite a few of our MP's and Lords fiddling expenses and lying on a regular basis to the public?

    @343. Paul J Weighell - since when were governments meant to protect businesses over the general public? It is up to businesses to protect themselves, not governments.

    @351. thefrogstar - well said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    Its really not fair that we should have to pay for music or video content. I wouldn't dream of working for nothing but surely that shouldn't apply to creative people.
    Obviously I would pay if the price was REALLY low, but nothing is lower than piracy eh?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Piracy is a smoke screen.

    Currently the distribution model is Artist > Record Label > Public.

    There is a new technology, in it's infancy that can remove the record label completely out of the picture.

    P2P and online distribution will come of age, a viable charging mechanism will be created, and then artists will be able to sell directly to the public.

    Labels are trying to stop this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    The government is beginning to sing from the same hymn sheet as the population. For me, the key sentence was the need to update "business practices" as well as the law. Information technology changes have destroyed the business model of the large music distributors. Those companies do not create the music. The are just middle-men who had too much influence when the laws were written.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    "Unfortunately, that includes legitimate torrents, such as Linux-related software." - Absolutely! And that is also the core of the issue with ISPs throttling BT downloads, there are plenty of "legal torrents" (In quotes because there's nothing illegal about BT itself).
    World of Warcraft for example, Blizzard use BT to transfer patch files because it makes it easier! Same indeed for Linux!

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    The problem is that the people who are legislating are ignorant of the issues and the advocates of the legislation represent vested interests who cannot see that those issues are of their own making.

    The myth, and it is a complete myth, is that an illegal download equals a lost sale. This is unadulterated nonsense. There is no proof a single penny was ever lost!

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    In light of the "Newport State of Mind", as Youtube is a US based service, doesn't Fair Use come it to this?
    Surely EMI know better then to take down a parody... apparently not.


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