Earlier today, the Open Rights Group reported that ‘detailed website blocking proposals have been presented by rights holder groups to Ed Vaizey’ by a cabal of rights holder groups including the FA Premier League; the Publishers Association; BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) Limited; the Motion Picture Association; and the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, at a closed meeting from which ORG and other consumer groups were excluded.
Fortunately, Consumer Focus were admitted to the meeting as the official consumer watchdog and they’ve produced a briefing on the rights holders’ proposals which makes it perfectly clear that they’re demanding the right to act as judge, jury and executioner when tackling alleged copyright infringements, leaving the courts to the role of providing a rubber stamp for their decisions:
Proposal for the Interim Applications Court to issue permanent injunctions
The proposal requires changes in the Civil Procedure Rules so that the Applications Court issues permanent injunctions on the basis of the advice given by a ‘Council’ and ‘expert body’. As such permanent injunctions would be issued by the Applications Court without a full trial. Consumer Focus is not able to support this proposal, and we believe the Ministry of Justice should be consulted
The proposal envisages that the ‘Council’ and ‘expert body’ decide that a website is ‘substantially focused on infringement directly or by authorisation’ on the basis of evidence submitted by copyright owners. On this basis the Applications Court is to issue permanent injunctions for UK ISPs to block a domain to UK users in under two hours of hearing time. Consumer Focus is concerned that the court is supposed to rubber stamp a decision by two non-judicial bodies, on the basis of ‘general support’ in case law for the concept of ‘websites substantially focused on infringement’2
Consumer Focus does not share the view that the cited case law establishes the principle of ‘websites substantially focused on infringement’. In any event, we do not believe that it is appropriate for two non-judicial bodies to broadly interpret existing case law, effectively establish new copyright law, and direct the Applications Court to issue a permanent injunction, without a trial.
In short, what the rights holder groups are demanding is that the government turn over decisions on network level blocking of websites allegedly involved in copyright infringement to their own, industry appointed, Star Chambers, with the Applications Court, which currently deals with the issuing of interim injunctions, relegated to the role of putting a rubber stamp on the edicts issued by these two non-judicial industry bodies without them having to go through the messy and time-consuming business of presenting evidence to a full trial.
Henry VIII would surely be proud of the industry’s efforts to revive a system of law that has not been seen in England since it was dispensed with by the Long Parliament of 1641.