The internet – you can get anything on that. It’s like the Wild West. Except, it’s not. There are a whole host of websites that are blocked by major British broadband providers, some for exceptionally good reasons (they’re carrying illegal material), some at the behest of copyright holders. Here, we’re going to help you work out which sites are blocked and why.
To be clear, the stuff we’re dealing with here is above and beyond the optional parental control filters applied by many of the big broadband providers. No matter if you’ve got the parental control filters switched on or not, the stuff listed below will be blocked.
Also note that only the UK’s biggest broadband providers – BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Sky and others – are duty bound to block these sites, although others may choose to do so (especially when it comes to illegal material).
There are ways around the blocks, such as switching DNS providers or using a VPN, which we’re not going to dive into here.
Websites containing illegal material
Let’s deal with the most unsavoury websites first, the ones that are blocked for hosting illegal material. For example, the Internet Watch Foundation manages a list of websites that contain child abuse content, which is used by broadband providers to filter out this content.
For obvious reasons, this list isn’t made public, and while there have been some rare instances of sites being wrongly added to that list, such disputes are normally sorted out quickly. You can find out more about the Internet Watch Foundation’s list here.
You may be surprised to learn that although the government would very much like certain other types of content to be routinely blocked by broadband providers, such as websites promoting terrorism, that is not currently the case. The government generally uses other means to have terrorism-related material taken down, such as targeting the web hosts. Such material may be blocked by the broadband provider’s own parental control filters, though.
Websites containing copyrighted material
The more controversial category of blocked websites are those containing copyrighted material. Rights holders can apply for court orders that effectively force the biggest broadband providers to block sites containing copyrighted music or movies, or sites illegally streaming content such as Premier League football.
Hundreds of sites have been blocked using these court orders, and if you attempt to visit one of these sites you will likely see a warning message such as this one from Virgin Media:
To their credit, some broadband providers are very upfront about which sites are blocked and who demanded the block in the first place. Virgin Media publishes its list of court orders here and Sky publishes a similar list here.
You’ll see that (at the time of writing in early August 2021) the lists were recently updated, with the Members of the Motion Picture Association of America forcing the broadband providers to block several sites hosting unauthorised movies, for instance.
As Virgin Media’s court order page points out, customers “may have the right to apply to the High Court to vary or discharge the Court Orders below if you are affected by the blocks which have been imposed”. However, the chances of the High Court overturning a banning order just because you don’t want to pay to watch Liverpool vs West Ham are very slim indeed…