BT has been ordered to stop its customers from accessing file-sharing website Newzbin2
A High Court judge has ordered BT to block access to file-sharing website Newzbin2, in what has become a landmark case for the Internet industry.
The ruling is expected to set a precedent for other Internet service providers, forcing them to effectively become web police and paving the way for further website blocking.
“BT has actual knowledge of other persons using its service to infringe copyright,” said Justice Arnold in his ruling. “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.”
He ruled that BT must use its blocking technology CleanFeed – which is currently used to prevent access to websites featuring child sexual abuse – to block access to Newzbin2.
Thin end of the wedge
The Motion Picture Association (MPA), which represents Hollywood studios such as Warner Bros, Fox, Disney and Paramount Pictures outside the United States, filed an injunction against BT in December 2010, requiring it to block access to Newzbin2 – an offshore website that offers access to pirated content via its Usenet indexing service.
The injunction was filed under Section 97A of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, which provides for possible injunctions against Internet intermediaries.
The High Court hearing began on 28 June and ran for three days. BT reportedly argued in court that if the judge granted the injunction, it would be the “thin end of the wedge” leading to hundreds of injunctions being applied for by content owners.
The decision is seen as a great victory for the British creative industries, which reportedly lose around £400 million per year due to web piracy. However, digital rights activists regard the ruling as a huge blow.
“Website blocking is pointless and dangerous,” said Peter Bradwell, copyright campaigner at the Open Rights Group, in response to the court’s decision. “These judgements won’t work to stop infringement or boost creative industries. And there are serious risks of legitimate content being blocked and service slowdown.”
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) also raised concerns about over-blocking, ease of circumvention and increased encryption.
“Blocking is not a silver bullet to stop online copyright infringement,” said Nicholas Lansman, ISPA secretary general. “Rather, as the government-commissioned Hargreaves Review recently found, there should be more focus on offering innovative, fully-licensed content services to give consumers what they are clearly demanding.”
Newzbin stands defiant
Newzbin has been a pioneer of searches of the Internet’s venerable Usenet newsgroup discussion forum system, creating technology such as NZB, an XML-based file format which allows faster searching of the vast quantities of Usenet content online.
Last year, the MPA won a High Court copyright infringement case against the original Newzbin website, which was ordered to pay damages and filter out all links to pirated films and TV shows owned by the companies represented by the MPA.
Following this ruling, the operator of the site, Newzbin Ltd, went into administration. However, a clone of the site – dubbed Newzbin2 – emerged on the net soon after, hosted in Sweden and apparently registered in the US.
Earlier today, a representative of the website told BBC News that Newzbin2 would attempt to “ensure continuity of service to our UK users” if a judge ruled against it again. He also warned that keeping the site up may involve attempts to break BT’s CleanFeed filter.
BT is expected to appeal the injunction – particularly as BT was one of the ISPs (alongside TalkTalk) that spearheaded the High Court fight to overturn the UK Digital Economy Act’s copyright measures. Under the terms of the Act, ISPs could be expected to hand over the IP addresses of anyone caught committing online copyright infringement to rights holders.
However, the Digital Economy Act faces widespread opposition from within the industry; and the United Nations said in June that the Act, with its ability to cut off Internet access, is a “violation” of the right to free expression.