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ORG Warns Many Court Ordered UK ISP Website Blocks are in Error

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A new study conducted by the Open Rights Group has claimed that around 37% of court ordered website blocks in the UK, which are often enforced by large broadband providers against copyright infringing websites (internet piracy), are done in error and being “improperly administrated by ISPs and rights holders.”

Major ISPs such as BT, Virgin Media, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk have over the past few years all been be forced, via a court order, to block websites if they are found to facilitate internet copyright infringement (piracy), which is supported via Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. So far well over 100 piracy sites have been blocked as a result of this and the process can be expensive.

The blocking is also flexible, which means that the orders can be adapted to include alternative domains, IP addresses and proxy servers, which are often used as a method of trying to bypass the blocks. Once these are included then the Open Rights Group has found that the total rises to more than 1,000 sites and this stems from 30 injunctions against over 150 services (e.g. The Pirate Bay).

However, the list of blocked domains is believed to be around 2,500 domains, and is not made public, so ORG were unable to check for all possible mistakes. Unfortunately the new tool on their blocked.org.uk project, which monitors the use of internet censorship (filtering) systems from the major providers, still found plenty of errors.


As we’ve reported before, such blocking can easily become prone to error, not least because over time the sites may close, be sold, move to a new location or the content could fundamentally change.

Similarly it’s common for websites to share their IP address details with others on the same web hosting company (this will only grow until the internet is IPv6-only), which can sometimes result in innocent sites being caught up in the same block.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said:

“It is not acceptable for a legal process to result in nearly 40% maladministration. These results show a great deal of carelessness.

We expect ISPs and rights holders to examine our results and remove the errors we have found as swiftly as possible.

We want ISPs to immediately release lists of previously blocked domains, so we can check blocks are being removed by everyone.

Rights holders must make public exactly what is being blocked, so we can be ascertain how else these extremely wide legal powers are being applied.”

In fairness, once a court order has been won then there’s not a lot that the major providers can do about it, except for implement the requested restrictions. The biggest onus is upon Rights Holders to ensure that their blocks only hit the intended target and avoid too much collateral damage (although it may be difficult to completely avoid this).

Meanwhile Rights Holders, such as the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), have recently called for more blocking via a new “fast-track process” that would effectively end the currently expensive court process. On the flip side the ORG would like a clearer process for getting mistakes corrected and more transparency of the wider block list.

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