The debate surrounding filtering Internet content has made headlines recently with China attempting to filter what it deems unsuitable online content for public consumption. This move unsurprisingly sparked an outcry by free speech activists and drew sharp criticism from the international community.
Closer to home another online battle has been brewing, this time between then Recording Industry of South Africa (RISA) and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs). RISA sent take-down notices to numerous local ISPs requesting that they block two international websites where music can be downloaded at a low cost.
The two websites in question are Soundike (http://www.soundike.com/) and GoMusicNow (www.Gomusic.ru), offering subscribers music downloads at US$ 0.15 (R 1.20) and US$ 0.09 (R 0.72) per track respectively. Further discounts are applicable for full album sales.
These prices are significantly lower than local online music outlets. The local Nokia Music store typically charges R 10 per track and R 100 per album while RhythmMusicOnline charges R 7 per track for local music tracks. The price per track from certain local online music download services can however be as high as R 17.
ISPA and ISPs won’t block websites
The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) wrote to RISA on behalf of its members rejecting the request to block the music download websites.
“It isn’t up to ISPA to decide whether or not websites should be blocked. It is up to ISPA to assist and advise its members in dealing with take-down notices made in terms of the ECT Act,” said ISPA GM Ant Blooks.
“The take-down notices ISPA’s members received from RiSA were requests to block access to certain Internet sites hosted outside of South Africa. The take-down notice process in the ECT Act can only be used to request the removal of content hosted on the network of the service provider to whom that take-down notice is sent,” Brooks explained.
“It cannot be used to request that an ISP blocks access to content hosted on another network somewhere. For this reason, ISPA advised its members that the RiSA notices were invalid and wrote to RiSA rejecting them.”
If RiSA wants the websites to be blocked it may well have to approach the courts to get it done. Brooks explains that any ISPA member would obey to the best of their ability any order from a competent court to block access to a web site, if the court determined that that was necessary.
“If fact, the ECT Act itself states this repeatedly (in sections 73, 74 and 75): ‘a competent court may order a service provider to terminate or prevent unlawful activity in terms of any other law’,” said Brooks.
“Thus, when it comes to blocking content hosted elsewhere in the world, the ECT Act confirms that it is the role of the courts to make a decision on when that should be done, and not the role of ISPs or ISPA,” Brooks concluded.