Digital Top Stories

Cameron’s porn filters could also target copyright infringement

By | Published on Monday 29 July 2013

Copyright

After last week’s announcement by David Cameron that UK internet service providers will be forced to install web-filters that are activated by default to help parents stop their children from accessing adult content on the net, speculation has begun that the same auto-filters will block copyright infringing websites too.

Although the specifics of how Cameron’s anti-porn programme will work are currently sketchy, and may well vary somewhat between ISP and ISP, it is thought that the filtering system will cover various bases, and that customers will have some flexibility to turn on and off different elements (though under the government’s proposals, by default all will be on).

Torrentfreak notes that TalkTalk’s existing filtering system – commended by Cameron – has ‘file-sharing’ sites as one of its options, while net sector sources have indicated to the Open Rights Group that proxies designed to help web-users circumvent court-ordered web-blocks might be included on the filtering list.

Many of the copyright industries’ lobbyists will probably welcome such a move – and, indeed, may have been pushing for it behind the scenes. Though in PR terms, the copyright sector might be better off divorcing itself from an initiative that is pretty controversial. While most would agree that protecting young web-users from being exposed to violent or explicit material is an admirable ambition, Team Cameron’s faith in filter technology seems at best naïve.

Manually managing a filtering system – so to block offending websites one-by-one – would be hugely labour intensive, making automatic filtering based on key terms or content types attractive, though even the most sophisticated technology of that type is flawed. Many noted that such filtering systems – operated voluntarily on some networks already – were last week filtering out news coverage of Cameron’s porn proposals because of some of the words used in such reports.

Although, of course, users will be able to turn off all filters operated by the ISPs, people are still talking about Cameron’s proposals as a form of censorship – because people may, through ignorance or social pressure (ie people might not want to be seen to be ‘opting in’ to porn), lose access to a plethora of sites. Which would mean that, if copyright was involved, the whole thing would further the usually flawed but nevertheless attractive ‘copyright as censorship’ argument.

It will be interesting to see how these filters turn out, and what manoeuvres the copyright industries will make as Cameron’s plans are being honed.


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