The British government is about to unveil proposals to block the Internet for copyright enforcement purposes. The confirmation came in a Parliamentary debate yesterday on Intellectual Property, in which pro-copyright MPs had a little ‘chit-chat’ about the allegedly ‘anti-copyright’ government, and indicated their desire for the activation of the Digital Economy Act.
The Minister of State for Business, Mark Prisk, said that an announcement on website blocking for copyright enforcement is "imminent". He did not give any detail, but did hint that the proposals would be ‘welcome’.
Given the forum in which he was making the statement (see below), the word ‘welcome’ should be interpreted from the perspective of the copyright industries, and could include measures targeting Google and search engines.
The proposals have been under development for at least six months by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. They have been expected for the past couple of weeks, according to Parliamentary insiders. It is possible that they will take the form of a Green Paper, the first step to legislation.
Mark Prisk’s actual words were:
“We need an IP system that helps business and consumers to realise all the opportunities presented, which is why we are actively supporting the UK’s creators and the creative industries and why, to benefit creators, we voted in Europe to extend the term of protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years—a really important step for originators of music and other sound recordings. It is also why […]we pressed to introduce measures to tackle online infringement of copyright through the Digital Economy Act 2010.”
“we are closely considering the issue around the blocking access, whether to block access to websites that infringe copyright. We will have something to say about that shortly, but, as I would like to continue to have a positive working relationship with my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I shall not pre-empt what they are about to say. An announcement is imminent, and I think that it will be welcomed.”
Mr Prisk seems to have forgotten that it was the Labour government – now the opposition - which pressed for the extension of copyright term protection, and it was Labour who pressed for the Digital Economy Act ( see DE Bill rammed through UK Parliament in 2 hours ).
The question which prompted the Minister’s answer, was put by the Labour MP for Newcastle, Chi Onwurah. She is currently shadow Minister for Business. Under the previous administration, until May 2010, Ms Onwurah was head of telecoms technology, at Ofcom.
She spoke in favour of anti-downloading measures, and in support of the Digital Economy Act.
The debate was instigated by the Scottish Nationalist MP, Pete Wishart. Mr Wishart is himself a musician and an open friend of the BPI. In his opening remarks, he bragged about having a ticket to the Brit Awards, the show-biz highlight of the music industry year.
What was interesting about this debate is how Mr Wishart launched an attack Google, before turning his verbal weaponry onto the Intellectual Property Office and the IP Minister, Baroness Wilcox, as well as Consumer Focus. He accused the government, and the IPO of giving too much support to IT industry lobbyists, and even that they are “anti-copyright”.
Mr Wishart further claimed the music industry are being dismissed by government Ministers whose ears are being bent by Google. He came close to suggesting that Google could have dominated the Hargreaves review, and only just refrained from the suggestion that Downing Street is in the pockets of Google.
“Those who now have the Government’s ear are not particularly helpful. Some have become self-serving protectionists and are telling the Government their views. Self-appointed digital rights champions seem to rule the roost when informing Government opinion, and everything that the Government do is predicated on the support for and desire to please massive multi-billion dollar west-coast United States companies such as Google.”
In respect of the music industry not getting sufficient ‘ear time’, Mr Wishart’s assertion carries little weight. But his attack may indicate that fear is building in the Berners Street headquarters of the UK music industry.
I trust Mr Wishart and his colleagues will enjoy the Brit Awards. No doubt, this event provides a wonderful opportunity for aging MPs to mingle with bright young boy and girl bands, in the expectation that some of the glamour rubs off. But it would be very disconcerting if the Brit Awards were to become a venue for policy-making.
We await the government’s web blocking announcement with interest. Perhaps Mr Prisk’s memory will return too.
Source: Hansard, 7 February 2012.
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