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Amendment would allow watchdog to block access to websites in Estonia

Using a computer.
Using a computer. Source: Maarja Merivoo-Parro

The Ministry of Justice wants to give Estonia's Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) the right to order ISPs to block access to websites that engage in copyright infringement. Digital rights activist Märt Põder said that this would amount to monitoring virtually all web traffic which is rather characteristic of totalitarian states.

The ministry's legislative intent document for a new version of the Copyright Act reads that the current law is problematic for several reasons and that amendments aim to render copyright simpler and clearer. The document also treats with the question of blocking access to sites that violate copyright rules.

It is said that the sites of content providers who do not have the necessary rights are easily accessible in Estonia. The Justice Ministry points to a study according to which piracy-oriented websites get more visits per capita in Estonian than elsewhere in Europe.

The document concludes that protecting the copyright of authors on foreign platforms is virtually impossible using existing legal means.

The ministry sees DNS and IP-based blocking as the solution. This would see Estonian internet service providers limit access to sites in breach of copyright irrespective of the location of the service provider's servers.

"This requires authorizing the TTJA to order ISPs to block access to sites that violate copyright and other associated rights in the territory of Estonia. The rights holder should be obligated to contact the service provider and ask them to stop rights infringement before the TTJA's control action.

Should the rights infringement continue after the request, the rights holder could request the TTJA to order ISPs to comply under pain of a fine.

Activist: This would amount to censorship

Märt Põder, digital rights activist and member of the board of NGO Internet Society Estonia, told ERR that the TTJA's recent experience with blocking Russian propaganda gives no reason to believe it would be capable of the same in the delicate field of copyright and that, rather, it would just create more confusion.

While the Justice Ministry claims Estonia tops the chart in terms of copyright infringement in Europe, Põder pointed to the same study also finding that it's near the bottom of the pack when it comes to hiding one's location using a VPN.

"That is what delivers the spike in statistics. People simply do not hide the fact they are visiting sites that infringe on copyright," he explained.

The activist added that blocking access to sites would also deliver a spike in VPN use.

"Whether this would reduce copyright infringement or make it worse is hard to say. It may have a limited effect," Põder said. But he added that going from blocking Russian war propaganda to copyright protection constitutes a baffling and unacceptable escalation.

Põder said that this would require more active technical blocking, which means monitoring all connections and picking out banned IP addresses.

"It is something that totalitarian states, such as Russia or China, do and Estonia definitely shouldn't do," he said. "The plan looks very bad. But it is in the legislative intent phase and meant to test the people's reaction. It comes off as trying to seize the opportunity to introduce censorship in the shadow of wartime moods."

The Ministry of Justice is expecting feedback from relevant agencies by February 5.

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Editor: Karin Koppel, Marcus Turovski

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