The Closing of the Net  "original and valuable"  Times Higher Education

Ministerial talks with rights-holders and ISPs. Ed Vaizey hints at web blocking in Parliamentary debate. Is the Minister just an industry pawn?

 UK Communications and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has come in for quite a bit of criticism for suggesting a two-tier Internet. A closer examination of his Parliamentary speeches reveals that he is organising secret talks between the entertainment and Internet industries.

 It is not exactly clear what the talks were about, but it seems that the agenda may have slipped from

new business models into web blocking.

Speaking in Parliament on 23 November, in a debate concerning another subject - pornography and the Internet - Ed Vaizey mentioned  casually that he had organised a round-table meeting with the music and entertainment, and Internet industries. He stated that the aim of the meeting was to discuss how to get ‘more legal content' as the Digital Economy Act comes on stream. His remarks came in the context of a discussion on web blocking for the purposes of ‘protecting children'. They were preceded by


"We have seen that ISPs can do very effective work in removing child abuse websites..."


And followed immediated afterwards by:


"It seems to me that, given that rights holders are fully aware of the websites

that are distributing their content illegally, ISPs could do more in that regard. "


What are we to make of this? It looks rather like the Minister could be commencing informal discussions on website blocking for copyright purposes.  Perhaps he is floating the idea. There is, after all, Clause 18 in the Digital Economy Act, which would permit Mr Vaizey's boss, the Secretary of State, to bring into force a provision for courts to order website blocking.


In the context of the Wikileaks so-called  Cablegate  leak of US diplomatic cables, Mr Vaizey's remarks take on a new level of importance. The calls by the US, French and Australian governments to block access to Wikileaks,  are against every principle of democracy.


The fact that organisations as large and as reputable as Amazon and PayPal capitulated so quickly, is indicative of how  government pressure can work to censor material from the Internet even in so-called liberal democracies. If Mr Vaizey is trailing the idea of web blocking, he should consider these deeper consequences for democratic speech.


Ed Vaizey said the round table was ‘productive'  and that 'substantial progress was made in 2 hours' - whatever that means - because he did not elaborate. He  went on to say that he would hold further such  round-table discussions, giving a general invitation to  ‘charities' and anyone else interested, to come along.


It is to be hoped that BIS and DCMS will follow up on that wider invitation - remembering that it isn't just charities, but media, volunteers and NGOs working on copyright issues who will be interested to join.


Whatever the talks were about, the public has a right to know what was discussed. Most definitely, we should not have to analyse Hansard  in order to find out.



 Thanks to Chris Marsden for highlighting Ed Vaizey's remarks.



The relevant extract from Hansard : Ed Vaizey on 23 November . The extract also shows the false flattery of Ed Vaizey's colleagues calling him a 'rising star'.  Industry pawn might be a better metaphor.  


Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) on initiating such an important debate so

early in the evening. I am glad that the Minister has enunciated the principle that ISPs are not merely a pipe through which information flows, but he has

not taken the opportunity to point out that they could do more. Will he take that opportunity now?

Mr Vaizey: Now I understand why my hon. Friend is regarded as a rising star. I was about to say that ISPs could do more



Mr Vaizey: Now I understand why my hon. Friend is regarded as a rising star.


I was about to say that ISPs could do more. My hon. Friend's anticipation

of my next sentence was almost uncanny, especially as I am now speaking off the cuff rather than from a prepared text.

We have seen that ISPs can do very effective work in removing child abuse websites. We also know-and I mentioned this during my speech on net

neutrality last week-that they can manage the traffic that crosses their network in order to give their consumers a good service.


A couple of weeks ago, I had a round table with ISPs and rights holders from the music and film industries and from sport to discuss what measures we could take to provide  more legal content as the Digital Economy Act 2010 comes down the line. It seems to me that, given that rights holders are fully aware of the websites that are distributing their content illegally, ISPs could do more in that regard.


However, what I learnt from the meeting was that it is important to arrange for people to sit around a table, discuss the issues, and seek ways in which we can work together to make the system operate effectively.


After that meeting, which was productive-I felt that in two hours we had made substantial progress-I made it absolutely clear that I would follow it up. It  would not be a one-off meeting that we would forget about, perhaps returning to it in a year's time. I  should like to offer the same opportunity to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, and perhaps to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and other interested Members, as well as to charities and other organisations that are involved in the debate.


If we do have such a meeting, it must not interfere with, or cut across, the important work that UKCCIS is doing. However, I think it important for the side that is concerned about the issue-which consists of most of us, especially those of us who are parents-to sit around a table with ISPs, air their concerns, ask questions, and establish what further action they can take, and for the ISPs to respond. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes that if we have such a meeting, I will not leave it there. We will see what progress we make, and we will follow it up.

Claire Perry: It is uncanny how the Minister is anticipating my questions. I can see why he is a risen star.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) DE Act: Minister hosts industry talks on  web blocking  6 December 2010









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