Content owners plot anti-piracy scheme
By Colin Mann

A coalition of content owners is working on a detailed proposal for a voluntary scheme which would see Internet Service Providers (ISPs) block dozens of sites facilitating online piracy, following a series of meetings convened by the communications minister Ed Vaizey, reports the Financial Times.

The initiative comes amid continuing delays to the implementation of anti-piracy legislation passed shortly before the end of the previous Labour administration in April 2010.

Vaizey hosted meetings with content industry bodies such as the BPI (representing the music industry) and MPA (movie studios), also involving ISPs such as BT and TalkTalk and web search companies Google and Yahoo

“The government hosted a useful discussion between ISPs and rights holders on issues around a voluntary site-blocking system to help tackle online copyright infringement,” confirmed a spokesman from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Sources suggest that rights holders have been told to come up with a more thorough proposal for how site blocking would work, in order to address ISPs’ concerns about the costs, technical feasibility and legal liabilities involved.

Comms regulator Ofcom is carrying out a review of existing site-blocking proposals in section 17 of the Digital Economy Act, which was among the final pieces of legislation passed by the outgoing Labour government. Ofcom is expected to publish its recommendations on the practicality of implementing the law in about a month.

A review by Professor Ian Hargreaves into copyright and intellectual property law, commissioned by the prime minister as part of a scheme to boost Internet entrepreneurship, is expected to conclude about the same time.

Provisions in the Digital Economy Act to tackle piracy, such as issuing warning letters to Internet users identified as illegally downloading copyrighted content, are currently subject to a High Court challenge from BT and TalkTalk as to the proportionality of the law.

A further meeting to discuss the rights holders’ plans is scheduled for May.

Meanwhile, Adam Crozier, Chief Executive of leading commercial broadcaster ITV, has revealed UK broadcasters and producers are unanimously opposed to the introduction of so-called ‘fair use’ principles which would allow companies such as Google’s YouTube or other online video sites to show clips of popular programmes, and left government ministers in no doubt as to their feelings at the summit.

Crozier told the Financial Times that it was vital that the government, which talked about supporting creative industries as a vital export driver and a world leader in television formats, protected intellectual property (IP).

He warned against weakening IP rules, accepting that the UK television industry hadn’t been joined-up enough to focus on this previously, with a number of companies having done a potentially better job at influencing around ‘fair use’, with these companies tending to be those that weren’t investing in creating content.

Crozier declined to single out Google, but he said it was vital to the UK that the government should favour the interests of companies that were “paying British taxes, creating British jobs, creating an export market and ancillary markets that come from that”.