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UK will block Web pirates if US takes lead: Ed Vaizey

US ISPs blocking websites related to online piracy would be a game changer, says culture minister  

By CBR Staff Writer

Culture and communications minister Ed Vaizey has said that the UK could block websites with unlicensed or copyright infringing content if the US introduces a similar policy.

Vaizey said that there are talks that Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US are considering a voluntary blocking of such websites and that it could be a "game changer" in the fight against online piracy the world over.

In the UK, the ISPs have resisted a law that would force them to filter websites.

"A voluntary agreement may come out of the US and if that does happen it could be a game-changer," Vaizey said.

He made a remark about the ongoing differences between ISPs and right holders.

He said, "If people are streaming live football without permission we should look at ways we can stop them."

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"People have the right to earn money from content they create," Vaizey added.

"They [the US government] have been tough but if they took down a website linking to fake handbags no-one would bat an eyebrow.

"As soon as it is a site sharing music it becomes an issue about freedom of speech," he said.

Last week, digital rights campaign group, The Open Rights Group (ORG) criticised the government after its request to attend a meeting on 15 June between Vaizey, ISPs and copyright holders was turned down.

The ORG accused that right holders had presented a secret proposal to Vaisey.

ORG executive director Jim Killock said the covert manner in which the government and the trade groups were proceeding on the policy is unacceptable.

Consumer Focus, which attended the meeting, raised concerns over the "disproportionate"measures suggested in the paper.

Consumer Focus said, "Consumer Focus has serious concerns about the proposal by copyright owner trade associations which would see ISPs block access to websites at a network level for all UK users."

The watchdog’s main concern is the fact that the trade associations do not identify the problem.

It added, "We do not believe website blocking should be seriously considered as an option if copyright owners have not licensed their content to meet consumer demand through new digital platforms."

"We understand that the Premier League would like to see websites blocked which enable UK consumers to stream football games from other territories. We believe that the first step to address this problem is to assess whether consumers’ evident demand for streaming football games online is met by legal services.

"Consumers’ willingness to, or preference for, watching football games online and on mobile devices will not diminish because access to unlicensed websites is blocked.

As such website blocking does not represent an effective solution."

Vaizey also said that he found "their [ISPs] attitude odd", referring to BT and TalkTalk’s failed legal battle against the Digital Economy Act (DEA), which makes peer-to-peer file-sharing unlawful and also has provision to block access to some websites.

Vaizey said, "Well I find their attitude quite odd… I mean I do find it odd that BT has spent so much time on litigating against an act of Parliament. They have fallen at every hurdle…I think they are still carrying on but there you go."

Vaizey added, "What we are trying to do is encourage rights holders and ISPs to work together. ..I am keen to protect our content industries as I think people should be able to earn money from the content they make, as laid out in the Digital Economy Act – and the Government should do what it can to protect them.

"Nobody is saying there is a 100 per cent solution or that business models don’t have to change. They obviously do in the digital age – but it doesn’t mean you should sit back and let other people rip off others’ work," Vaizey said.

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