The high court in London has just ruled in favor of Hollywood in its attempt to try and get the Usenet site Newszbin2 — which the Motion Picture Assocation says “continues to infringe copyright on a massive and commercial scale” — blocked by British internet providers.
In a long-running case taken by the film studios against British Telecom, the U.K.’s leading ISP, the MPA had said that it was necessary to filter the site and stop users from accessing its trove of pirated material, including hit movies like Oscar-winner The King’s Speech. The reason for taking its fight to the ISP? Because the MPA had previously won a judgment in court forcing Newzbin to shut down, but shortly after it did so, the service simply reopened as Newzbin2.
However, British Telecom had challenged the argument that it should be
made responsible for policing online activity. But that, the court decided, was no argument. In a lengthy judgment, the judge, Justin Arnold, ruled that BT should implement a block:
“In my judgment it follows that BT has actual knowledge of other persons using its service to infringe copyright: it knows tha
t the users and operators of Newbin2 infringe copyright on a large scale… 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.”
Our own Janko Roettgers has been following this story closely — it’s been running ever since Newzbin was originally sued over this in 2009 — and recently made the point that the studios have been very calculating in taking on Usenet in this way. As he said, the studios followed this precise series of maneuvers because it gave it the greatest chance of success: BT is Britain’s biggest internet service provider, and it already has a scheme for instituting content blocks, a system the company calls its “Cleanfeed” technology, primarily used to block pornography.
The real issue is whether the threat forces other internet service providers to follow suit in order to avoid costly action — and which other websites, if any, are deemed to fall under this ruling.
After all, most efforts in the past have focused on torrent sites like The Pirate Bay that make it easy to download copies of files without permission of the copyright holder. By comparison, downloading movies or television through Usenet was hard. But in the last few years sites like Newzbin have made it increasingly easy. While Usenet is not exactly the same as torrenting in a technical sense, the question will be whether it is close enough in the eyes of the law.