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The Cost of Getting UK ISPs to Block a Website via Court Order

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 (2:02 pm) - Score 2,802
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How much does it cost to block a website via court order in the United Kingdom? According to the solicitor acting for Richemont, Simon Baggs of Wiggin LLP, the cost of forcing ISPs to block a website via the court process is roughly £14,000 per site. But that’s not the only cost involved and consumers could ultimately end up paying the price.

Blocking injunctions are most often raised in the United Kingdom under Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and these are usually only taken out against the largest broadband ISPs (i.e. those that can afford the cost of running a complex network-level filtering system). The ISPs are first asked to voluntarily block related sites, which they generally refuse, before an injunction is raised and in most cases the providers do not oppose the process.

But until now the cost of getting such a block through the courts and implemented, both in terms of its impact upon ISPs and Rights Holders, have remained unclear. Thankfully the recent Trade Mark case between ISPs and luxury brands giant Compagnie Financière Richemont SA (here) has resulted in new information, which is summarised by TorrentFreak.

According to Justice Arnold and Richemont’s solicitor firm, Wiggin LLP, an unopposed application tends to cost around £14,000 per site. On top of that the additional admin involved in maintaining the block and keeping ISPs up-to-date with related IP address changes and new URLs for the site comes to around £3,600 per website per year (blocked websites often change IP address, use proxy servers or switch domains).

The ISPs themselves also incur on-going costs as part of their work to introduce a block, although none of the providers seemed able to give a clear figure. EE suggested that a “near four figure sum” was involved with each update, while Sky Broadband pointed to a “mid three figure sum” and then roughly half that for future updates to the same block (i.e. under £1000).

Sky added that on-going monitoring of blocked domains also costs the ISP a “low four figure sum per month” and Virgin Media pegged their own annual costs at a “low five figure sum“. Not forgetting that time is money and ISP staff sometimes need to respond to comments about blocking, which is another cost.

Mr Justice Arnold said:

It is obvious that ISPs faced with the costs of implementing website orders have a choice. They may either absorb these costs themselves, resulting in slightly lower profit margins, or they may pass these costs on to their subscribers in the form of higher subscription charges.”

At present these costs are at a manageable level but another 36 Internet piracy / torrent sites are soon expected to join the existing blocks as part of recent applications from various record companies, film studios and home entertainment firms. Not to mention that Richemont themselves have said they’ve got a list of 46,000 sites ready for violation of their commercial Trade Mark (i.e. selling counterfeit goods).

Admittedly this is going to be hugely expensive for Richemont to pursue and the costs to ISPs will quickly spiral, which could force providers into a position of either putting their prices up or perhaps becoming more amenable to voluntary blocking via their Parental Control systems. The latter would be cheaper but could also raise many ethical and legal questions about enforced censorship without recourse to the courts, which could open the doors to abuse and even force ISPs to deal with a massive surge in requests.

Meanwhile those looking for such content and sites will no doubt continue to circumvent related website blocks with ease.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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6 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Jones

    The other issue with ISPs blocking websites without recourse to a court order is that they, themselves, will be open to legal action should those websites feel they’ve been dealt with unfairly. By requiring the rights holder to raise the injunction, the ISPs gain a lot of legal protection as they are just following a court order (provided they don’t make mistakes). Of course, ISPs already have some exposure to legal action where they block “illegal” content. However, I suspect they have a public interest defence and use list drawn up by the IWF (which has strong law enforcement agency involvement).

    Possibly the way round this would be to have some equivalent process to the IWF for IPR rights, but many people (including me) would have reservations over its scope. Already BT’s “Cleanfeed” technology has been co-opted by the courts for purposes it was not intended. Heaven knows what might happen if a quango was involved.

  2. Avatar Bob2002

    >Already BT’s “Cleanfeed” technology has been co-opted by the courts for purposes it was not intended.

    It was intended to prevent _accidental_ viewing of illegal images, it was never intended to actually, effectively, _block_ access to anything. The media and politicians continually propagate the myth of “Cleanfeed” as a “blocking” mechanism and it needs to be debunked at every opportunity.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Indeed. For anybody intent on looking at illegal content, it’s very easy to circumvent using anonymous proxies over an encrypted link. And that’s just the start. There’s the “dark web” for the really evil stuff.

  3. Avatar danny

    if its going to cost that amount then why bother doing it because they pussy foot about and a site closes another one opens its a no win situation that’s how thick they are but that’s the know it all government but let them get on with it and waste loads of Wonga.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      This is nothing to do with the government (that is blocking injunctions against counterfeiting sites). It’s a civil law issue.

    • Avatar timeless

      agreed its a civil issue, but its government endorsed so essentially their fingers are pretty much wrist deep in the whole thing, after all lm sure many MPs have fingers in some of the companies either pushing for this or that will benefit from such laws.

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