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Ofcom to review Digital Economy Act site-blocking measures

When a 'principle' simply isn't enough

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Communications watchdog Ofcom is to review sections of the Digital Economy Act to see if they are workable.

The government said this morning that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had asked Ofcom to consider whether the Act, which was expected to come into force this month, could work on the issue of reserve powers to enable courts to block copyright-infringing sites.

“I have no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content. But it is not clear whether the site-blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice, so I have asked Ofcom to address this question," said Hunt.

“Before we consider introducing site-blocking, we need to know whether these measures are possible.”

UK.gov said that if such measures were brought in, secondary legislation would need to be introduced, hence the added scrutiny.

"Although reform of the Digital Economy Act did not form part of the Coalition Agreement, we have listened to the views expressed," said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

"The government will look at whether we have the right tools for the job in addressing the problem of online copyright infringement."

Ofcom – which is currently prepping a "mass notification system" for the Act – has been tasked with reviewing the feasibility of site-blocking. In the meantime, the government plans to sit on those DEA measures until the watchdog has reached a conclusion about that section of the Act, said Clegg.

The latest scrutiny of measures detailed in the DEA comes less than two months after a judicial review was granted by the High Court in November last year. A hearing for that review will take place on 22 March.

Senior judges agreed to look at the DEA following a complaint from BT and TalkTalk. Both companies grumbled that the Act had been rushed through Parliament before the election.

That review, alongside Ofcom's separate probe, looks certain to delay the Act's anti-unlawful file-sharing regime. ®

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