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UK Culture Secretary calls on ISPs and search engines to block infringing sites



United Kingdom

The government is once again calling on industry to adopt voluntary schemes to tackle online IP infringements.

This alert was featured in Tech Bytes, our technology law newsletter.

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Having decided not to implement “unworkable” site-blocking powers under the Digital Economy Act (“DEA”), the government is once again calling on industry to adopt voluntary schemes to tackle online IP infringements.

In a wide-ranging speech on 14 September 2011, the UK’s Culture Secretary - Jeremy Hunt - called for a cross-industry body to be tasked with identifying infringing sites.  Mr Hunt envisages that the new watchdog could be modelled on the Internet Watch Foundation.

The Culture Secretary also wants search engines and ISPs to take “reasonable steps” to impede access to sites found by a court to be infringing, presumably by removing those sites from search listings or by site blocking.  Most internet intermediaries already operate notice and takedown procedures so that if they are notified that any content that they are hosting is infringing, they will remove it expeditiously. However, site-blocking is more controversial, as it potentially interferes with internet users’ rights to freedom of expression, and depending on the technology used, could also interfere with users’ privacy rights. The recent decision in Newzbin2 shows that if a website is entirely dedicated to infringing activities, the courts have little trouble in concluding that intellectual property rights outweigh the freedom of expression rights of users.

Nonetheless, the content industry argues (and Newzbin2 shows) that the existing process for obtaining a site blocking injunction against an ISP is slow and expensive. The Culture Secretary has indicated that if the industry fails to put in place effective voluntary arrangements, then the government will legislate under the forthcoming Communications Bill. 

Advertisers, banks and credit card companies should also play their part, says the government, by removing adverts and payment services from infringing sites.

Another proposal likely to find its way into the Communications Bill is a requirement for ISPs to offer all new customers the chance to activate parental controls on their broadband service either at the point of purchase or at the point that the customer’s account is activated.

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