UK Politicians Keep Getting It Wrong: Now Want To Outlaw Weblockers

from the damn-that-VCR dept

Earlier this week, we noted that some UK Lords were looking to make the Digital Economy Bill even worse by adding a provision that would allow a judge to block all access to a website if that site was accused of facilitating copyright infringement. After widespread outcry against the proposal in the UK, the Lords changed the proposal, but came back with an even more ridiculous proposal that would be even more stringent in allowing courts to shut down websites. Cory Doctorow has an excellent writeup in The Guardian explaining how this would block out all sorts of legitimate activities:

As our routine media files have increased in size – multi-megapixel images, home videos, audio recordings of meetings and so on – it’s become increasingly difficult to use email to share data privately with family, friends and colleagues, because most email servers croak over really big files. For example, the sound editor for my podcasts uses a web locker to send me the mastered audiofiles for my review (and he’s not the only audio person who relies on this; many’s the time I’ve had an audiobook publisher send me an MP3 of an audiobook for review through a web locker).

There are plenty of personal uses too: my parents live in Canada and are always hungry for video of their granddaughter, but I don’t want to make our home movies available on the public internet, so web lockers save the day for us. And when my immigration attorneys needed a mountain of scanned bank statements sent to their office for my application for permanent residence in the UK, a web locker made it easy to convey an encrypted archive to them.

There’s no way to square this need for private file sharing with the entertainment industry’s demand that all files be placed in the public sphere, where they can be inspected for infringement.

On top of that, he notes that such blocks won’t stop unauthorized file sharing anyway. It will just drive those doing it further underground. In the end, it will just annoy people who have legitimate reasons to use such technology and/or put them at significantly greater risk of privacy violations.

What becomes clear in many of these debates is that the politicians pushing for these “solutions” don’t really understand technology at all — and, on top of that, often don’t clearly understand the details of the overall issue. They just hear “piracy” and think “bad, must be stopped.” But the truth is a lot more nuanced. The real issue is an industry with an increasingly obsolete business model that doesn’t want to adapt. But rather than help them do that, these politicians are basically trying to deny the technology — whether used for legitimate purposes or not — to pretend they can set up a world that works the way it used to.

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Comments on “UK Politicians Keep Getting It Wrong: Now Want To Outlaw Weblockers”

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Jake (user link) says:

Let us be grateful for small mercies; the amendment at least ensures that the accusers have to convince a judge that infringement is taking place on a large scale before the ISP can pull the plug.

And you’re right that the politicians debating this issue don’t really understand it. The best -probably only- way to wrap your head around how the Internet works is to have used it for work and recreation almost every day for a number of years, and that eliminates anyone who currently matters in British politics, or is likely to start mattering in the next decade or two.

Duke (profile) says:

It could be even worse

It is worth noting that the effect of this amendment could be even worse. According to the debate it would be expected that a copyright holder would first send a letter to the ISP (Section 97B 4(b), under amendment 120A) alleging that a certain website is hosting or linking to (Section 97B 2(a)) material infringing their copyright and that the ISP should block it or face legal action. If it does go to court, under Section 97B 4, the ISP has to pay the copyright owner’s legal costs unless there were “exceptional circumstances justifying the service provider’s failure to prevent access despite notification”.

We have already seen how unwilling the UK’s ISPs are to put up any sort of fight when it comes to legal action aimed at their subscribers, never mind third parties and the wealth of abuses of the DMCA take-down system has shown to what extent laws such as this can be misused if not properly challenged.

It has recently been noted that the Lord who proposed (and spoke passionately, if technically inaccurately on) this amendment is paid £70,000 a year by a firm of IP lawyers with close to the RIAA. He even tried to compare this amendment to the IWF’s (voluntary) censorship of a few hundred sites hosting child abuse images – fortunately this was criticised during the debate by the Minister.

In any case, this amendment is one of the most shocking things to come out of the DEB process, and was pushed in at the last minute with a clear lack of thought – some Lords had already been complaining at the speed with which this bill has been drafted and debated – it seems the British pubic are going to suffer greatly due to the government’s (and now, both opposition parties’) desire to appease the media giants in time for the election.

More details of the debate can be found on the PPUK’s website.

Joseph Young says:


If there’s one good thing coming out of the Digital Economy Bill, it’s that more people than ever are paying closer attention than ever to the country’s democratic process. I’d never realised the truth in the quote often misattributed to Otto von Bismarck: “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

The problems surrounding this Bill have been compounded by having it introduced in the upper, revising chamber, for it only later to move to the lower chamber. It is excruciating to watch the elderly men and women of the House of Lords trying to grapple with such a new and technically complex subject. The House of Lords is ideal as a revising chamber. Its members can consider legislation on constitutional and legal principles and look at it from the point of view of long standing British traditions. Its forte is not ironing out the defects in the first draft of a Bill on cutting-edge technology.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

No Subject


For about a million years humans in one form or another have been comunicating with each other and sharing information. Sharing knowledge and information is built into us. Last week at a friends house his daughter was getting frustrated with a puzzle the teacher had given the class as an assignment. Knowing how to solve the puzzle and not wanting to give it away, my statement was “dont think about how to put the puzzle together, think about how to take it apart and go backwards”. Five minutes later the problem was solved. I got kicked in the shin for my effort and told thank you.

The reason why this addition to the Digital Economy bill will fail to do anything to save the media industries is, copyright is only 1,000,000 div 200 years of copyright or 1/5000 of human history and you cant fight genetics. Not very successfully anyway. Sharing information and is built into us. Its not information that wants to be free, its the people. Its not the internet that routes around obstructions, its the people. The technology is now here to route around this ability to block access to a site. This attempt in the UK’s Digital economy bill to block access to encrypted password protected file transfer sites (Web Lockers) will fail for that reason.

In the end the Uk’s digital economy bill will do nothing but cause hardship for the people of Britain. It will also speed the demise of the Newspapers, Record labels, e-book, and Video distributors as people find work arounds. As personal data consumption habits continue to change and adapt to the new rules and new technologies emerge, people will leaving stagnant corporations behind and invalidate the UK’s Digital Economy Bill.



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