Darrell Hudson

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Website Blocking – Off The Table in the UK (For Now)

In countries across the world, IP rightholders are pushing website blocking as the latest weapon against online copyright infringement. United Nations’ Human Rights experts, security engineers, law professors and others are pushing back, noting both the enormous collateral damage such blocking can cause and the likelihood that it will do little to actually curb infringement.

The UK government’s decision was based on a report by UK regulator Ofcom, dated 27 May 2011, but released on Wednesday as part of the UK government’s welcome response to the landmark Hargreaves report from May. As we saw in last week’s Newzbin2 judgment, rightsholders in the UK already have the ability under existing law to obtain court injunctions requiring ISPs to block websites proven to have infringed copyright, but the reserved blocking powers in sections 17-18 of the 2010 Digital Economy Act are broader and more controversial. That’s why the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sports asked Ofcom in February to review whether those website blocking provisions were workable. Ofcom concluded they weren’t, but did not reject use of website-blocking altogether.


Ofcom concludes that while it is feasible to “constrain access to prohibited locations on the Internet” using these techniques alone or in combination, “none of the techniques is 100% effective; each carries different costs and has a different impact on network performance and the risk of over-blocking” and that “[f]or all blocking methods circumvention by site operators and Internet users is technically possible and would be relatively straightforward by determined users.”

“Although imperfect and technically challenging, site blocking could nevertheless raise the costs and undermine the viability of at least some infringing sites, while also introducing barriers for users wishing to infringe. Site blocking is likely to deter casual and unintentional infringers and by requiring some degree of active circumvention raise the threshold even for determined infringers.”

The report goes on to suggest that if blocking is to be implemented, DNS blocking is the preferable approach because it would cause the least delay and cost – two of the key concerns voiced by copyright holders. It also suggests augmenting this by requiring search engines to delist websites.

Ofcom notes that DNS blocking is at best a short term solution because implementation of DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) will shortly make DNS blocking more transparent and hence less effective. It therefore recommends Packet Inspection for a longer term solution but highlights that it is technically complicated (and therefore slower to implement), expensive (translation: Internet access costs are likely to go up as costs are passed onto subscribers), and raises a number of pesky legal questions – such as whether DPI is compatible with UK privacy and data protection law. (We’d like to read that legal opinion).

via EFF


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