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Hunt: We'll slightly inconvenience pirate sites

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In August the government said it wouldn't implement the Digital Economy Act's web-blocking powers. But it still thinks pirate websites hurt British business and wants something to make accessing them more more difficult, and to make sanctions against them less expensive.

But what might all this look like?

According to a leak to the FT (behind paywall), Jeremy Hunt will float a number of proposals in a speech tomorrow ranging from an IWF-like industry group which would agree on a blacklist to technical and commercial measures against the pirates. Search engines might be expected to demote pirate sites in the listings, or put warning stickers against them in Google.

"We intend to take measures to make it more and more difficult to access sites that deliberately facilitate infringement, misleading consumers and depriving creators of a fair reward for their creativity," Hunt's speech says - according to the FT.

While identifying Torrent users is relatively easy, discouraging punters from accessing Rapidshare or PirateTV is much more difficult, since the scofflaw sites are overseas. The ISPs argue that the existing law is sufficient – and the Newsbinz case established the principle that a court order must be presented for every site. The copyright-holders argue that the law hasn't kept pace with technology, making enforcement into an expensive token gesture. Hollywood studios spent a million pounds over 18 months fighting BT in the courts to stop BT carrying Newsbinz (and its descendants).

In closed-door meetings chaired by Ed Vaizey that brought together copyright business representatives and ISPs, the government has been keen to replace the DEA's reserve powers on web-blocking with something voluntary. It has done the first part, dropping the DEA sections, but not the other.

Vaizey does not appear sympathetic to the "no to everything" anti-enforcement brigade, who he described as "armchair music business critics".

Leaks emerged in June of a publishers and record company discussion document floating the idea of an "Expert Body". This would prevent legitimate sites, or casual infringers, from being blacklisted.

Not that a blacklist looks like a kiss of death. It just means warnings for advertisers who advertise on the pirate sites, and credit card companies who process their payments. We'd be surprised if there are many UK advertisers or financial services companies who do either.

And as for delisting the sites from Google? Not very likely. Google already demotes pirate sites from autocomplete searches, but is set against doing much more. A "traffic light" signalling scheme has been floated by groups including the PRS instead.

Whatever may happen is sure to happen slowly. The context for the speech is a new Communications Act. But this won't be law before 2015 we hear. Mr Hunt may have departed from the Culture Dept long before then. ®

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