Hunt: Unlawful distribution is theft

UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has countered suggestions that tackling the problem of material that is being unlawfully distributed online is an assault on the “freedom” of the Internet.

He told the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention that unlawfully distributing copyrighted material was “theft, and a direct assault on the freedoms and rights of creators of content to be rewarded fairly for their efforts.”

He noted that we do not allow certain products to be sold in the shops on the high street, nor do we allow shops to be set up purely to sell counterfeited products. “Likewise we should be entitled to make it more difficult to access sites that are dedicated to the infringement of copyright. Sites that are misleading customers and denying creators fair reward for their work,” he asserted, noting that the government strongly welcomed the proposals by Professor Hargreaves to help the UK lead the way with new business models by setting up a Digital Copyright Exchange.

“But those new models will never be able to prosper if they have to compete with free alternatives based on the illegal distribution of copyrighted material,” he warned. “We see this in South Korea, where according to The Economist, a proliferation of new business models for content distribution have emerged following the introduction of anti-piracy laws. The result? Locally produced music content has now risen to seventy-six per cent of domestic CD sales.”

He suggested that “all options” needed to be explored to make life more difficult for sites that ignore the law. These could include:

– A cross-industry body, perhaps modelled on the Internet Watch Foundation, to be charged with identifying infringing websites against which action could be taken;
– A streamlined legal process to make it possible for the courts to act quickly;
– A responsibility on search engines and ISPs to take reasonable steps to make it harder to access sites that a court has deemed contain unlawful content or promote unlawful distribution of content;
– A responsibility on advertisers to take reasonable steps to remove their advertisements from these sites;
– And finally a responsibility on credit card companies and banks to remove their services from these sites.

” Experience in America shows that these goals can be achieved by voluntary agreements, but if not we will look at legislative solutions and include these in our forthcoming Communications Green Paper,” he concluded.

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