LibDem Lords seek to ban web-lockers (YouSendIt, etc) in the UK

Since I posted yesterday about the UK LibDem Peers' introduction of a pro-web-censorship amendment to the Digital Economy Bill, the Peers have withdrawn their proposal and entered a revised one jointly with Conservative Lords.

Unfortunately, this amendment is even worse in some ways. In a posting on Liberal Democratic Voice, Lord Clement-Jones explains that his amendment is intended to attack "web-lockers," such as YouSendIt and RapidShare:

The Digital Economy Bill, as currently drafted, only deals with a certain type of copyright infringement, namely peer-to-peer file sharing. Around 35% of all online copyright infringement takes place on non peer-to-peer sites and services. Particular threats concern "cyberlockers" which are hosted abroad.

There are websites which consistently infringe copyright, many of them based outside the UK in countries such as Russia and beyond the jurisdiction of the UK courts. Many of these websites refuse to stop supplying access to illegal content.

It is a result of this situation that the Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment in the Lords which has the support of the Conservatives that enables the High Court to grant an injunction requiring Internet Service Providers to block access to sites.

The idea that web-lockers should be blocked nationwide by court order is a bad idea:

1. Web-lockers are useful for more than piracy. I routinely use web-lockers for my own business and personal affairs. When I need to send a large video of my daughter playing to my parents, a web-locker is the simplest way of doing this. Web-lockers are also a vital part of how I produce my audiobooks and podcasts, since they allow me to privately share large pre-release audio-files with readers, editors and publishers. Web-lockers are also how I communicate with my attorneys and accountants for transmission of sensitive documents, such as scans of my passport and bills.

2. The reason web-lockers are useful for piracy is because they support privacy. The entertainment industry's principle objection to web-lockers is that their contents are private, and cannot be readily survielled by copyright enforcement tools. When I send a video of my daughter in the bath to her grandparents, the only people who can download that video are the people who have access to the private URL for the locker. This is the same mechanism that infringers use to avoid detection: upload an infringing file and share the URL with friends. You can't fix the web-locker problem without attacking the right of Internet users to privately share large files with one another.

3. The establishment of a national blocklist is itself a bad idea. Creating a facility whereby ISPs can be compelled to block entire websites is a bad idea on its face. The security problems raised by such a facility are grave (a hijacker could use it to block the BBC, or Parliament, or Google), and the temptation to extend this facility for use in other civil actions, (say, libel) will be great. Also, as my friend Lilian Edwards has pointed out, the LibDem proposal does not stipulate how long sites must be blocked for, nor what the procedure is for unblocking them.

4. There is no evidence that this will work. Dedicated infringers have shown a willingness and capability to use technologies such as proxies to evade firewalls. These proxies -- many of them legitimate businesses at home and abroad -- are cheap and easy to use, and make it trivial to evade ISP-level filtering. However, "good guys" (small traders, individuals wishing to share private material with friends and family) should not have to bear the expense and difficulty of evading the Great Firewall of Britain to do legitimate business on the net.

5. This is bad for the nation. The only country to enact anti-web-locker legislation to date is South Korea, which brought in a similar measure to the LibDem proposal as a condition of its Free Trade Agreement with the USA, whose IP chapter focused largely on locking down the Korean Internet. In the time since the US-Korea FTA, Korea has slipped badly in the global league tables for ICT competitiveness, going from being a worldwide leader in technology to an also-ran.

I have sent a version of these comments to both of the LibDem peers using ORG's Write to Them links. I hope you'll get in touch with them, too. This is a grave blunder for the supposed "party of liberty," especially on the eve of a national election.

Update: According to a post on LibDem Voice, Clement-Jones draws a salary of £70,000 to serve as Co-Chairman of law firm DLA Piper's global government relations practice. DLA Piper is "one of the largest groups of IP lawyers in the world" and has "acted for, and lobbied on behalf of, the RIAA and MPAA in the past."