19 Sep, 2011

The Federation Against Software Theft has cautiously welcomed comments made in a speech on 15th September by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP, who has called on search engines like Google, as well as internet service providers, to bar links to websites offering pirated content in a bid to stem the proliferation of illegal downloads.

“We do not allow certain products to be sold in the shops on the high street, nor do we allow shops to be set up purely to sell counterfeited products,” Mr Hunt told the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention.

He continued: “Likewise we should be entitled to make it more difficult to access sites that are dedicated to the infringement of copyright. Sites that are misleading customers and denying creators fair reward for their work.”

Under the new proposals, advertisers would also be expected to pull all adverts from pirate websites and banks and credit card companies would be asked not to deal with transactions involving any site offering illegal content.

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, General Counsel, FAST, stated: ”The Culture Secretary said in his speech that search engines and internet service providers (ISPs) could be forced to make it harder for users to access copyright infringing content online as a result of a new Communications Bill which we welcome. However, while we respect the work the government is doing in this area we are trying to understand how this could possibly work without creating unwanted and complex government intervention or new industry bodies as these could act as a slow bureaucratic barrier.”

“The law in this area – and that has to include the enforcement side – must be accessible, clear, flexible and easy to use so that rights’ holders can rely on it and act with speed in order to deal with infringers, if need be.  We are uncomfortable and unclear as to what may be on the table and we are  not convinced by a central hub, which we fear will in reality be ineffective,” he added.

Robin Fry, Partner at law firm, Beachcroft LLP explained: “More importantly, ISPs and credit card companies should be readily disclosing customer details of purchases made on sites where there is evidence of illegal selling of pirate and counterfeit goods. Unsurprisingly, many illegal websites do not ask for the names and contact details of their customers – however these can be traced through the credit or debit cards that people use to purchase illegal goods. ISPs and credit card companies hiding behind the Data Protection Act is one of the biggest problems for rights owners at present.”

Julian commented: “Furthermore, the minister must focus political will on the need for deterrent damages which should be available in law against persistent infringers. Section 97A (as per the case of NewzBin) should become a streamlined process for legal practitioners, akin to Norwich Pharmacal proceedings whereby foreign based websites infringing UK copyright may be blocked accordingly without exorbitant cost. Attention should also be given to being able to successfully sue infringers abroad from within the UK following the lead in the Lucasfilm Ltd v Ainsworth case and use the litigation concerning eBay to discourage pro actively online platforms becoming mixed up in the trade of infringements. Those who facilitate sales can be held accountable for the goods which pass through their hands. There is joint work to be done across platforms with rights holders struggling with infringements. It is an important part of the process. Stakeholders must continue dialogue to counter the sale of counterfeit goods over the Internet,” concluded Julian.

In the speech made on 15th September 2011, the Culture Secretary outlined a number of provisions within a new Communications Bill, which included:

  –  A cross-industry body, perhaps modelled on the Internet Watch Foundation, to be charged with identifying infringing websites against which action could be taken.

  –  A streamlined legal process to make it possible for the courts to act quickly.

  –  A responsibility on search engines and ISPs to take reasonable steps to make it harder to access sites that a court has deemed contain unlawful content or promote unlawful distribution of content.

  –  A responsibility on advertisers to take reasonable steps to remove their advertisements from these sites.

  –  A responsibility on credit card companies and banks to remove their services from these sites.
































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