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Thursday, 28 July 2011

28 July 2011: UK internet enters new era of censorship and control

Do not for a minute convince yourself that the High Court's decision to force ISP BT to block access to newsgroup link aggregator service Newzbin is right on any level.

Today is a terrible day for liberty and democracy.  The precedent has been set - there is a mechanism for state-backed censorship of the internet in the UK.

[Full ruling available on the BBC website (pdf)]

Put issues of copyright, ownership of intellectual property etc aside for a minute and consider that, today, we entered an era of centralised control over what we can and cannot view on the internet.

Who runs and oversees the process deciding what we can and cannot see online?  The courts?  Well who pays for the action to force ISPs to block websites?  More importantly, who pays to defend the interest of the overseas sites being blocked?

Who pays to represent the interests of the public in an adversarial legal system which puts the interests of rights holders against the interests of ISPs?

You may see this as a clear-cut case to protect against piracy.  I don't and never have condoned piracy, but I'm convinced this new era of censorship is open to abuse.

Follow the money and you arrive at the inevitable conclusion that overseas websites will be blocked when vested interests can afford the legal investment in making their case in court.

In an adversarial legal system, if counter-interests are not skilfully defended in court, the court will side with the applicant.

In this specific case, the Newzbin2 service might actually be legal under UK law if it only offers, as claimed, links to third party content.  Links which may or may not infringe other people's copyright.

Subversion of censorship

Several years ago ISPs agreed amongst themselves that something could be done about the specific problem of child abuse images on the internet.  They agreed that an industry-run and funded system independent of government offered the best compromise between the dangers of censorship and the good from blocking content universally accepted as illegal.

The Internet Watch Foundation was established, and major ISPs installed a system commonly referred to by its trade name as Cleenfeed - although the actual system deployed varies from ISP to ISP.

When the system was installed, assurances were made that this system would only ever be used to block shocking scenes of child abuse.

The cost of installing and running the system was met by ISPs themselves.  Now copyright owners want in.  This is absolutely wrong and shocks me to the core.

Blocking won't work in its aim of preventing access, yet will cause collateral damage

This really is the tip of the proverbial, as content owners across the globe are sure to file actions to block the sites they see as damaging their business models.

Yet there is no technical solution available today that will prevent those determined to access the blocked content.  Services such as VPN (virtual private networks) sell for around £10 month, offering unfiltered internet access.  If the value of the infringing content exceeds the cost of the VPN, then the outcome is assured.

Furthermore, many more informal solutions offer free work-arounds to blocking.  The most obvious - go with a small ISP, who doesn't have a Cleenfeed-type system installed.

Yet when sites who've done nothing wrong inevitably get on the censorship list, ordinary web users who aren't out to get knock-off copyrighted material for free will be affected.  They might not find their usual search engine or news aggregation service because it's blocked - yet not realise why.

And just wait until corrupt politicians, police and big media get their claws into censorship block lists.  Welcome to the future, folks.  All in the name of protecting the interests of the copyright cartels.

Read more about problems with of blocking here.



  1. Organizations like MPA and its like are really criminals, in the true meaning of the word, state-sponsored criminals.

  2. Q. How can one easily tell if a work is subject to copyright?

    A. You cant

    This is why the child porn blocking worked.

  3. Unlike what Anonymous wrote we can quite reasonably assume everything is subject to copyright, unless it is many decades old. Copyright is automatic and the works of authors who died in the 40s are only now entering the public domain.

    What ISPs, Google or end users can't do on their own is determine whether a website is properly licensed or otherwise authorized by law to use a piece of content.

  4. If piracy is the individual's exercise of cultural liberty contrary to the fiat privilege of copyright, then one day you're going to have to amend your lip service to unethical law - you will have to condone piracy.

    Is it not possible that the 1709 Statute of Anne is unethical law?

    Admitting this possibility is the first step on the way to recognising the right to copy as primordial, natural and its annulling by Queen Anne as unethical.

    Who are you trying to avoid frightening by disclaiming support for piracy?

    So many recognise the harmful fallout from copyright, but still refuse to consider that it is copyright itself that is the cause. It's time copyright ceased being subconsciously recognised as a sacred white elephant to which all detractors must affirm allegiance.

  5. I totally agree with you James when you say that the politics of censorship can come to abuse. I think these new laws and forms of control are to limit most of all the information. Now realized that everything is known via internet and just want to let people see news that suits them just to know. This seems a total manipulation media, not only control the information on television but also what will make the Internet.


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