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UK considers out-of-court website blocking mechanism

Film studios, music labels and sports broadcasters would be able to prevent others making copies of their content available online via an out-of-court procedure in future, under plans being considered in the UK.23 Oct 2018

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) said it is looking into the potential of establishing "administrative site blocking" in the UK.

At the moment, rights holders can make an application to the UK courts for a website blocking order under section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. That section gives the UK courts the power to grant an injunction against an internet service provider (ISP) if it has 'actual knowledge' that someone had used its service to infringe copyright. There is no equivalent provision in the UK's Trade Mark Act, but in 2016 the Court of Appeal in London ruled that the court’s power to grant an injunction could be invoked against ISPs in relation to infringement of trade marks as well as copyright.

However, there is significant cost involved in applying website blocking orders. In June this year, the Supreme Court ruled that, in general, those are costs that are generally for rights holders and not ISPs to bear.

Now the government has said it will look at whether to introduce an alternative to the court procedure.

"We will consider the evidence for and potential impact of administrative site blocking (as opposed to requiring a High Court injunction in every case), as well as identifying the mechanisms through which administrative site blocking could be introduced," the IPO said.

Iain Connor, intellectual property law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "For too long the burden on both ISPs and rights holders has meant that illegal streaming has been all too easy. Therefore, provided sufficient safeguards can be put in place to ensure that rights holders don’t seek to overreach their lawful monopolies then this proposal will be welcomed. This is definitely a case where the application of technology to a simple administrative 'notice and takedown' procedure will benefit everybody in the sector and allow better and cheaper streaming to consumers."

The IPO's statement was contained in a response it has published to a 'call for views' exercise it previously held on the issue of illicit IPTV streaming devices. According to the IPO, which carried out a review into the topic, existing legislation is "effective in combating illicit streaming".

UK minister for intellectual property, Sam Gyimah said: "Illegal streaming damages our creative industries. We have always been clear that media streaming devices used to access ‘paid for’ material for free are illegal. Recent prosecutions have shown that if caught, sellers of boxes adapted in this way face fines and a prison sentence. Through our modern industrial strategy, we are backing our booming creative industries which is why we are taking further steps to tackle this threat and in our recent creative industries sector deal outlined support to create the right conditions for them to continue to thrive."