Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked Ofcom to assess whether the provisions in the Digital Economy Act relating to the blocking of access to websites accused of filesharing are practicable.

The decision to review the provisions comes as result of the Government's "Your Freedom" website, launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, in which members of the public were asked to nominate laws and regulations which they would like to see abolished.

The provisions in question are aimed at tackling certain types of online copyright infringement, such as websites that unlawfully stream live television programmes or other content from outside the UK. The Act’s measures still need secondary legislation before they can be introduced, however the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has said the review will influence the Government’s decision on how to proceed.

The terms of reference for the Ofcom assessment are

Is it possible for internet service providers ("ISPs") to actually block access to the sites in question?

  • How robust would such a block be (and how easy would it be to circumvent)?
  • What measures might be adopted by ISPs to prevent such circumvention?
  • How granular can blocking be (e.g. can specific parts of a site be blocked)?
  • How effective are Sections 17 and 18 of the Act (which deal with the power to make provisions about injunctions preventing access to internet sites) in providing for an appropriate method of generating lists of sites to be blocked?
  • If possible, identify either a potential range of costs for ISP blocking solutions or the main drivers of those costs.

Ofcom is expected to report back in the Spring. In the meantime, the Act is also still subject to judicial review by BT and Talk Talk, who have challenged the provisions on the grounds that they are disproportionate and fail to properly comply with other European legislation. That review began on 23 March 2011 with rights holders including the Premier League and a number of trade bodies expected to lobby in support of the Act.

A copy of the full press release is available here.