Sorry, folks: the EU net neutrality plans won't kill site blocking

parliament-strasborg_620x350The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, where the members soon will vote on a plan to create a "full and open Internet" law. Except, that is, when the Member States say otherwise. (Photo: European Parliament/Flickr)

Plans by the European Union to prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) blocking or throttling customers ' access with the new net neutrality rules will not affect the site blocking on a membership level.

As reported by our London bureau on Tuesday, indicated the EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes plans to prevent anti-competitive blocking competing services, such as those that compete with their own offerings.

She quoted services like Skype and WhatsApp blocked or destroyed "simply to avoid competition."

But the EU has no plans to intervene in the Court-sanctioned Web site blocking, such as The Pirate Bay block in the United Kingdom and other file sharing sites. The EU is promising is to prevent "obstruction or strangulation by competing services."

Net neutrality is one of the most contested and argued points in Europe right now. Internet and broadband providers want to restrict certain traffic to certain areas to give everyone a fair amount of bandwidth – to ensure that the data hogs don't prevent someone else's service, while customers want access to everything, and the network faster speeds.

Also, some Internet lines that deliberately broken by ISPs to manage traffic on their networks, such as to avoid traffic jams. Kroes said some of these reasons are "legitimate", but noted: "When you buy a carton of milk, you don't expect it is half empty."

The proposed new law, in the form of a one-size-fits-all "regulation" – each Member State has the exact same team, rather than a directive that allows some interpretation — could be in force as soon as early 2014.

Despite Kroes pledge for a "full and open Internet on any device, any network," the European Commission has no plans to intervene in Member States ' legal requests for site blocking. That means sites like The Pirate Bay and other sites for file sharing, will remain blocked in their respective countries, if not the Internet providers to challenge verdict in a higher court.

A spokesman for the European Commission said they only were able to comment on individual cases.

When piracy groups and record companies were successful in seeking a court order against British Internet service providers to prevent a nationwide block on The Pirate Bay, it opened up the floor to any other website for almost any given reason.

Britain's piracy law, Digital Economy Act, was brought into law by a fraction of the Parliament's representatives in 2010. But in order for the "three strikes" and you are cut off from the Web rule to go into effect, it required a licence from Brussels.

"Activation" of the UK's Digital Economy Act was not quick enough for the copyright holders, including the music and movie business. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the country's record industry trade association, brought a case to court against one of the biggest file-sharing websites of them all.

In April 2011, the High Court in London ruled that BT, the country's largest broadband provider, must block access to file-sharing site Newzbin2 — with other than the Cleanfeed system, formerly used only to block child pornography. It was generally seen as a "test case" building up to forcing greater file sharing Web sites outside the United Kingdom.

BT did not appeal the decision, leading to a damaging legal precedent under U.K. law. From this judgment, any individual or organization can take a separate case against other online property, claims under civil or criminal law – from defamation, copyright violation — that the website broke the law.

Internet providers said they would only comply with the request for a court order forced them to do so. But almost exactly a year later, six of the UK's biggest broadband providers were told the same High Court to impose a block on its customers from accessing the Magnet-link sharing site The Pirate Bay.

The British Phonographic Industry had brought the case to the High Court in London. BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor told the BBC that it will continue to take legal action against "illegal sites" as "ripping" artists.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, where the blocks were imposed after similar legal challenges, said Dutch ISP XS4All customer traffic to The Pirate Bay went up instead of down. Two more Internet service providers, according to TorrentFreak, suggested that the blocks are not negatively affected the peer-to-peer traffic.

And Netherlands have net neutrality laws, yet still blocking sites by legal means.

The EU's only option is to agree on comprehensive copyright laws by the Member States and their courts must respect. In that case, it would supersede the national law.

Despite the huge excitement to last year's first verdict on The Pirate Bay blocked by Britain's largest Internet service providers, there is no institutional momentum to achieve a uniform set of laws that would see EU copyright system.

Sources in the European Parliament, who did not want to be named, confirmed that the 27 Heads of European Union Member States are not likely to adopt laws at the European Council any time soon, because of a different approach than if such laws shall be interpretive directive "or" consistent "regulations".

Changes to the copyright system is expected to go ahead in 2014. During a May 30 meeting, both Belgium and France said they want strong protection for authors and content creators, while a number of other countries – including the United Kingdom and Spain – promote harmonisation of the levy system in the region, suggesting a regulation-type approach.

But Ministers have not set out a definitive measures, according to the reports.

It comes just months after 12 EU Prime Ministers penned a letter arguing for the need to stimulate economic growth. One of the priorities on the list was to build an efficient system of copyright.

"The digital economy is growing rapidly, but cross-border trade is still low, and creativity is stifled by a complex Web of various national copyright regimes," said the letter.

"Action is needed at European level to provide businesses and consumers with the means and the confidence to shop online, by simplifying licensing, build an effective framework for copyright infringement, providing a secure and affordable system for cross-border payments online, establish online dispute resolution mechanisms for cross-border online transactions and on the amendment of the EU framework for digital signatures."

Neither the French or Belgian Prime Ministers ' names were included in the letter.

According to a spokesman for the European Commission, while the EU considers that copyright must be updated, particularly in matters relating to the licensing of content and to ensure that legal content available regardless of where the user is in the EU, "it does not mean people can just ignore the law in the meantime."