The High Court has ordered BT to block access to Newzbin2, a website that provides links to huge amounts of movie content available via the Usenet network, most of it unlicensed.
As previously reported, the original Newzbin site was last year ordered by the British courts to remove any links to unlicensed movies. Instead it shut down and relaunched from a base in Sweden, putting the service out of the jurisdiction of UK judges. So instead the Motion Picture Association went back to court and asked the judge to order BT to stop its customers from accessing the site. It’s a test case under English law, because web-blocking injunctions have not been previously issued on copyright infringement grounds in this country, though they have been issued in other jurisdictions against sites like The Pirate Bay.
The music business has been watching the case carefully because in theory it opens the door for music companies to apply for injunctions that force all ISPs to block access to all sorts of websites which primarily exist to aid copyright infringement. An on-hold section of the Digital Economy Act actually included a process for issuing such injunctions, though the Newzbin ruling arguably means new laws are not required for the courts to start issuing web-block orders. Needless to say, the ISPs don’t like the idea of judges having those powers, and have expressed concern that the ruling reached today re Newzbin could open the flood-gates, with content owners calling for injunctions against sites which inadvertently aid copyright infringement, but which in the main exist for legitimate purposes.
Justifying his ruling ordering BT to block access to Newzbin2, judge Richard Arnold stated: “In my judgment it follows that BT has actual knowledge of other persons using its service to infringe copyright: it knows that the users and operators of Newzbin2 infringe copyright on a large scale, and in particular infringe the copyrights of the studios in large numbers of their films and television programmes. It knows that the users of Newzbin2 include BT subscribers, and it knows those users use its service to receive infringing copies of copyright works made available to them by Newzbin2″.
Needless to say, the MPA welcomed the decision. The organisation’s MD Chris Marcich told the BBC: “This ruling from Justice Arnold is a victory for millions of people working in the UK creative industries and demonstrates that the law of the land must apply online. This court action was never an attack on ISPs but we do need their co-operation to deal with the Newzbin site which continually tries to evade the law and judicial sanction. Newzbin is a notorious pirate website which makes hundreds of thousands of copyrighted products available without permission and with no regard for the law”.
ISPs and the operators of sites like Newzbin will no doubt object to the ruling, and it remains to be seen if BT appeals. Of course, more savvy users of the Newzbin service will be able to circumvent any block, though if it stops more casual users from accessing illegal content presumably the content industries will be happy.