A common practice among news websites is to provide articles online, where an initial portion is freely viewable, and the remainder requires an active subscription. However, on numerous occasions, I have found that this is done through merely blurring or covering up the remaining text with client-side elements that can be disabled with simple 'inspect-element' tools provided by browsers.

Is it violating the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to disable those elements and read the news article?

A couple of points to emphasize:

  • The article was already permissibly present on my machine.
  • No data is being sent back; it's just a matter of how my computer interprets the data they gave me.

2 Answers 2


The relevant section (§1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 states

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if— (a) he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer, or to enable any such access to be secured; (b) the access he intends to secure, or to enable to be secured, is unauthorised; and (c) he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

When a content-provider puts content "out in the open" in the described fashion, e.g. with a visible snippet of text, they are implicitly authorizing people to access the content (notice that web pages do not have to overtly announce "You are authorized to read this notice"). One approach to narrowing the access so granted is via a log-in scheme which send a portion of text then a "teaser", plus code which (upon authentication) loads the full page. Circumventing that method of access is a violation of the act.

Another method would be to include the entire content, by blurring, printing white on white, or some other form of display obfuscation, where display = scramble(plaintext). For example

<!DOCTYPE html><html> <head><title>Title</title><style>
#blur {font-size: 40px; color: transparent; text-shadow: 0 0 16px #000;  }
</style></head><body><div id="blur">Pay money to see this </div></body></html>

When you enter your authorization code, the host computer performs a function (eliminates the scrambling in the code it sends to your computer, change 16 to 0). But you may be able to get the same result by inspecting the page source.

The crucial wording of the act says "causes a computer to perform any function...", but the host computer is not performing any function at all at this point, indeed the host may have melted down. The owner of the client computer can authorize his own computer to perform functions on data legally received from a host (you can read a web page, you can zoom in and out, all being locally-executed functions).

So it depends on the method of obfuscation used by the host. With that caveat, your analysis is correct.


I believe it wouldn’t fall under computer abuse, but it might be covered by the DMCA.

Let’s say I rent a digital movie. It gets downloaded to my computer. It is marked as “rental movie, may be played twice until Dec 3rd”. This is checked on my computer by DRM without contacting any server. And I remove this information and now I can keep that movie and it will play forever. That would be coverdd red by the DMCA, and your situation seems quite similar.

Comments: Anyone asking “Am I breaking law X if I do Y” can be assumed to want to know about whether they break over laws as well. DMCA: A rented movie is DRM protected just like a DRM protected video or music file. I would bet that companies doing this will do it in a way that making the movie playable forever will break the DMCA.

  • 2
    (besides not being a specific answer to the question:) At least upon a cursory investigation of the DMCA, in 1201.a.3.B, it specifically defines a measure to 'effectively control access', if it requires the application of information, a process, or a treatment. In this case, the bypass occurs simply by a failure to apply a process. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 22:16
  • 2
    The DMCA is an American law. This question is tagged united-kingdom.
    – Someone
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 22:23
  • 1
    The UK Computer Misuse Act is not the american CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse act) either.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 22:51
  • 1
    @Someone From help: "Even if you supply a jurisdiction tag, we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions – while it might not answer your question directly, your question will be here for others who may be from those jurisdictions."
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 8:43
  • 2
    @JBentley good point. I added the united-states tag to the answer so it's clear that it's not for the same jurisdiction as the question.
    – Someone
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 17:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .