Hidden deep within the text of the government’s new Draft Deregulation Bill 2013, which proposes to abolish UK regulation that’s “no longer of practical use” or is a threat to the economy, can be found a small line that would finally repeal the controversial Digital Economy Act 2010’s powers for enforcing mandatory website blocking upon ISPs.
The Digital Economy Act (DEAct) was originally designed to tackle online copyright infringement (internet piracy) through public File Sharing (P2P) networks by, among other things, imposing “technical measures” upon broadband ISPs (service disconnection etc.) and issuing warning letters to customers. But after endless delays the first letters will now not be sent until “the latter half of 2015” (here).
As a result it’s often easy to forget that, in the dying days before the last May 2010 General Election, the previous Labour government managed to rush a controversial new measure through parliament that would have required internet providers to block websites (aka – “blocking injunction“). The move caused surprise and in 2011 Ofcom was ordered to review the solution (here).
The telecom and media regulator’s review, which concluded later that same year (here), broadly recognised that ISP’s have no control to physically remove or block content that does not exist within their own network and found that “the provisions as they stand would not be effective“.
The measures would have also needed secondary legislation before they could be introduced and so the government (DCMS) agreed “not [to] bring forward the Act’s site-blocking provisions at this time.” Since then some legal tweaks have allowed Rights Holders to use Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act for effectively the same purpose (e.g. blocking The Pirate Bay and many other piracy sites).
Draft Deregulation Bill 2013 Extract
Repeal of power to make provision for blocking injunctions
In the Digital Economy Act 2010, omit sections 17 and 18 (which confer power on the Secretary of State to make regulations about the granting by courts of injunctions requiring the blocking of websites that infringe copyright).
The long expected repeal will do little to change the current use of court orders, not to mention the new network-level filtering (Parental Control) requirements, that both require big ISPs to block websites. Related measures remain incredibly easy to circumvent and have arguably made online piracy even harder to track by pushing people further underground. Meanwhile terms like VPN and Proxy Servers have become common knowledge.
The Bill, which was published last month, is now expected to be formally introduced to Parliament during early 2014 and it will then be subject to the full Parliamentary process. Credits to Oxford University researcher Ian Brown and James Blessing for bringing this to our attention.