Technology

Industry plans to block piracy websites criticised

UEFA Arsenal vs... Bra game
Image caption Illegal football streaming websites could be restricted

Online consumer groups have criticised industry plans to block websites that stream copyrighted material for free.

It follows a meeting last week between communications minister Ed Vaizey, internet service providers and copyright holders.

Digital campaigners, The Open Rights Group (ORG) is angry that its request to attend the meeting was turned down.

It called for more public debate on the issue and said it was "unacceptable" for policy to be formed this way.

Web blocking is seen as a way to combat the increasing amount of copyrighted material that is being streamed for free online.

The ORG said that it has learnt that part of the discussion was about setting up a "council" that could be given the power to decide which websites were blocked.

Censorship

Jim Killock, executive director of the ORG is a vocal campaigner against the measures being proposed.

He said: "It is unacceptable for trade groups and the government to conduct policy in this way. Censorship proposals must be discussed in public."

He added: "Many of us will oppose any censorship that impacts directly and widely on free expression."

There are no details of how the "councils" would be made up, but consumer group Consumer Focus, who was at the meeting, warned that it would be inappropriate for right holders to decide which UK websites should be blocked.

The plans come in the wake of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) which mandates some anti-piracy action and obliges ISPs to work with rights holders to identify persistent pirates.

The group of copyright holders behind the plans, titled as Addressing Websites That Are Substantially Focused on Infringement, included the Publishers Association, the BPI, the Football Association Premier League and the Motion Picture Alliance.

Live streaming

If the proposals get the go-ahead it could allow the Premier League to block access to live streams of its football matches.

Consumer Focus argued in the case of streamed football games, blocking would be a "disproportionate" response.

"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."

In response to the criticism, a spokesperson from the Department for Culture Media and Sport issued a statement: "The government hosted a useful discussion between ISPs and rights holders on issues around industry proposals for a site blocking scheme to help tackle online copyright infringement.

"Consumer representatives were invited and Consumer Focus attended the meeting."

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