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ISPs And Publishers Told To Work Out File-Share Plans

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The government has formed a working group to find a way to block illegal file-sharing sites

The government is forming a working group to address how to identify and block illegal file-sharing sites as required by the Digital Economy Act.

The group will include copyright holders, internet service providers (ISPs), search engine  representatives and government ministers. The implcations of the DEA have also been also referred to Ofcom for comment and advice.

Contentious And Litigious Issues

Jeremy Hunt

Section 17 of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) has proved contentious because critics say efforts to combat illeagl file-sharing wiill amount to Internet censorship. Open access advocates say this could be a dangerous precedent and could be the thin end of the censorship wedge.

The intellectual rights holders, primarily comprising publishers in the music and film industry, claim they are losing untold millions of pounds from illegal downloading through file-sharing services, such as RapidShare.

The working party will consider how to make anti file-sharing measures more palatable. Search engine sites and ISPs are concerned about the burden of proof, and fear that site blocking could lead them to endless court actions from the owners of blocked sites, similar to the legal actions over users wrongly accused of downloading copyright material.

The prototype working party met last week at the request of Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, and Ed Vaizey, the minister for communications and creative industries. Members of the group comprised BT, Talk-Talk, Google, music rights action group the BPI, and Universal Music.

“The BPI continues to believe that measures to prevent access to illegal websites are essential if Britain’s creative and technology sectors are to fulfil their growth potential,” said Geoff Taylor, BPI’s chief executive. “Many of these websites are located outside the UK and exist solely to profit at the expense of artists and creators, threatening British jobs and investment.”

One plan under consideration is that the rights holders would take the burden and indemnify ISPs from prosecution. This could be done by presenting the ISPs with incontrovertible proof that a site is operating illegally. However, the law may have to be clarified on what is the actual definition of “illegal copying”.

Earlier this month Hunt said, “I have no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content but it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice. So I have asked Ofcom to address this question.”

Google has already suggested a plan to drop piracy sites further down the search results than legal sources of films and music.

“It is agreed that what is needed is a plan B, or at least a plan that works alongside section 17 which would be the legal backstop,” one meeting attendee told The Guardian newsaper. “We want to look at how ISPs and rights holders can work together.”