Digital Legal Top Stories

Movie industry to ask court to force BT to block infringing index

By | Published on Tuesday 28 June 2011


The UK movie industry will today go to the High Court in London in a bid to try and force BT to stop its internet customers from accessing Newzbin2, a Usenet indexer which the film industry says helps web users access vast amounts of unlicensed movie content. It’s something of a test case, and if the film companies are successful could open the doors for more claims by content owners for injunctions forcing ISPs to block access to websites that enable copyright infringement.

This is not the UK movie industry’s first legal assault on Newzbin. Last year a judge ruled that the Usenet index service was liable for copyright infringement for providing access to large quantities of unlicensed movies stored elsewhere on the internet. In their defence, the operators of Newzbin used the standard excuses: that their service had legitimate uses, that they didn’t host any unlicensed content on their own servers, that they didn’t promote that their service be used for illegal content distribution, and that they weren’t aware that there were vast amounts of unlicensed films linked to via their index.

The judge hearing the case didn’t buy those arguments, and ordered Newzbin to remove any links to movies represented by the plaintiffs from their site. The judge did not, however, instigate a wider ban of the Newzbin service. Nevertheless, the company that ran the index went into administration and the service went temporarily offline, but then resurfaced a few months later as Newzbin2, seemingly run out of Sweden.

The Newzbin case was interesting in that it tested, under English law, the liability for copyright infringement of websites and internet services that simply provide links to other servers where infringing content is stored – ie they don’t host unlicensed content themselves. Of course, that issue has been at the heart of all the big lawsuits against the providers of P2P software or BitTorrent search services, and in most jurisdictions liability has been found, though the British music industry has never pursued any such case in the English courts.

When they go to court today, the Motion Picture Association will presumably claim that Newzbin continues to provide links to unlicensed movies, despite last year’s court ruling, and that given the service is now operating from outside the UK it is difficult to target the index directly, so the next best thing the law can do is to force internet service providers to block access to the Newzbin URL.

Such domain blocking already happens in criminal scenarios, and in some jurisdictions injunctions have been given by the courts ordering net firms to block access to copyright infringing websites like The Pirate Bay, but not in the UK. An entire section of the Digital Economy Act proposed a fast track injunctions system whereby content owners could target websites that infringe copyrights, or provide links to unlicensed content, but a last minute clause inserted in the DEA put that proposal on indefinite hold pending the launch of the three-strikes system against individual file-sharers, and further parliamentary debate.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey is currently looking into a possibly voluntary web blocking system, where ISPs would voluntarily block access to copyright infringing sites. The problem, of course, is who decides what constitutes a copyright infringing website, when legitimate search engines like Google routinely provide links to unlicensed content.

It remains to be seen whether the MPA succeeds in getting its injunction against BT and Newzbin under existing UK copyright law. If they do, the music companies might be tempted to try similar action against any file-sharing sites that still get them all hot and bothered.