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Two hot topics continuing to hit the news are the ongoing battles of tackling copyright infringement and the even more difficult problem of combating the promotion of ‘extremism’ online. The European Court of Justice and the UK Government respectively have taken a strong view on these and have been making a lot of noise. The problem is, it’s not sensible noise.


Paul Heritage-Redpath, Product Manager

As if British businesses didn’t already have enough on their plates dealing with their own government, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could soon add to UK ISPs’ headaches by requiring them to block websites deemed to be infringing copyright. Apparently we’ve got the court’s Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón airing his opinion that “…the internet provider of the user of a website which infringes copyright is also to be regarded as an intermediary whose services are used by a third party…and therefore also as a person against whom an injunction can be granted”.

ISPreview.co.uk: EU Ruling Could Extend Internet Piracy Website Blocking to All ISPs

The concept of eliminating the promotion of extremism online is one that any sensible nation would accept and support. The problem lies in the ‘solution’ the Government seems to think is appropriate. Under the skin though, you can see the many flaws in what is such a poorly considered plan. Getting ISPs to block the IP address of sites regarded as ‘Extremist’ might have been an excellent idea a good many years ago when a single IP belonged to a single computer on which a single website lived… but in our era of modern technology (which it would appear the Government needs to brush up on) blocking an IP now would result in curtailing the propaganda of one extremist site but also the valid content of thousands of other innocent sites running on the same server with the same IP address. What’s more, even this poorly thought out tactic fails to account for the fact that determined publishers of extremist sites will employ other means of ensuring their voice is heard, such as the ones deployed by phishing or spamming sites. The crux of the problem is that you can’t solve social problems with technology. Take China for example – regardless of ‘the great firewall’, there are still cracks and programmes such as Lantern that expose them”.

Theregister.co.uk: Lantern lights the way to web freedom for Great Firewall prisoners

There’s also the problem of determining at what point a web site is deemed to be ‘extremist’. The consequence of requiring ISPs and even search engine operators to police the Internet without clear guidelines is a recipe for disaster for millions of innocent web site owners, businesses and individuals who find themselves blocked. It just won’t work.

Equally, to suggest that ISPs are partly responsible for the distribution of copyright-infringed content is impractical. Countless people have pointed to the ridiculous analogy of the Royal Mail being a guilty party in the delivery of packages that contain illegal copies of something. It goes without saying that an ISP must accord with the Law if it receives a court order to block access to a web site but in that respect it isn’t being held accountable. If Entanet was asked to co-operate on such grounds it would comply with such requests as a law abiding company; but to impose on us a responsibility to determine whether a web site is offering copyright-infringing content and taking action against it simply illustrates the lack of understanding that the ECJ has of the complexities of distributing content via the Internet. ISPs would have to employ huge resources, both in terms of technology and people, to manage such a task. That comes at a considerable cost yet we don’t hear any Government body offering to cover those costs…

It’s shocking to realise that the Government wishes to point the finger at ISPs and search engines to take responsibility for enforcing what is an unworkable system. DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) may go some way to achieve compliance but even that’s not perfect. However, there’s then the question of who is going to pay for it, notwithstanding that Government, ISPs, resellers and customers will all feel the effects on their wallets. In considering, let alone developing, these requirements the ECJ and the UK Government are throwing money down the drain on initiatives that won’t solve the problems. Yet, as these possibilities become more and more a reality, we must question whether Pedro Cruz Villalón and David Cameron truly understand the gravity of their ‘solutions’.

Have your say!

Do you think the ECJ and UK Government’s strategies for combating online copyright infringement and extremism are workable? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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One Response to “You can’t solve social problems with technology”

  1. All an ISP can do is recognise that someone has *claimed* their copyright may have been infringed. Unless they each want to create investigatory departments (and I suspect they really don’t) then they can never be in a position to judge between the two competing viewpoints.

    It must *always* be for the person or company claiming that their copyright has been infringed to take steps if they believe those rights have been abrogated. And that must be via the courts where such claims can be properly tested and argued.

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