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Website blocking provisions to be removed from Digital Economy Act, says Government

The Government is to repeal sections of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) which give the Culture Secretary the power to draw up new regulations on website blocking.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it would remove sections 17 and 18 of the DEA after a report by telecoms regulator Ofcom found that the procedures would not be predictable, low-cost and fast enough to implement to be of use to rights holders. DCMS also said that recent court cases had proven that existing copyright laws sufficiently enable rights holders to take action against internet piracy.

"The Government is committed to removing unnecessary legislation from the statute book and will therefore remove sections 17 and 18 of the DEA," DCMS said in a statement.

Under sections 17 and 18 of the DEA anti-piracy measures can be drawn up at the behest of the Culture Secretary after court consultations have taken place and the proposed measures have been laid before Parliament. Those sections enable regulations to be made where courts have decided to force ISPs to block access to pirated copyright works.

However, last summer the Motion Picture Association (MPA) used existing copyright laws to win a High Court order forcing BT to block access to copyright-infringing website Newzbin2. Newzbin2 is a members-only site which collates links to a large amount of illegally-copied material including films, music and computer games, found on Usenet discussion forums.

The MPA, representing six major film studios, had requested the action under section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. That Act gives UK courts the power to grant an injunction against an ISP if it had 'actual knowledge' that someone had used its service to infringe copyright.

Since that ruling the MPA won a similar order forcing Sky to block its customers' access to Newzbin2.

Earlier this year the UK music industry followed the MPA's lead and obtained a High Court ruling forcing Sky, Everything Everywhere, TalkTalk, O2 and Virgin Media to block their customers' access to The Pirate Bay website. BT has subsequently followed suit. The Pirate Bay enables users to search for and download copyrighted content, including music and films. The EMI, Sony, Polydor and other major record companies, representing trade body the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI) and all its members, had claimed the site infringed their copyrights. The High Court made its blocking order in that case also under section 97A of the CDPA.

The Government announced in August last year that it was postponing the introduction of the site-blocking provisions of the DEA after Ofcom detailed potential problems with how the procedures would work in practice.

In its report (56-page / 1.99MB PDF) Ofcom said that it did not believe that sections 17 and 18 of the Act would "meet the requirements of the copyright owners."

"Specifically, we do not think that using the DEA would sufficiently speed up the process of securing a blocking injunction, when compared to using section 97A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, which already provides a route to securing blocking injunctions," Ofcom said. "As a consequence we are sceptical as to whether copyright owners would make sufficient use of any new process."

Earlier this week Ofcom detailed other plans under the DEA to combat online copyright infringement. Under the plans suspected copyright infringers would be issued with warning letters from their internet service provider on the basis of evidence gathered by rights holder groups. Subscribers issued with three such notifications could be taken to court by rights holders under a proposed procedures outlined by the regulator.

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