Newzbin lose interesting copyright case

By | Published on Wednesday 31 March 2010

Newzbin, a search service which makes it easier to navigate the Usenet online discussion network, has lost a High Court battle with the Motion Picture Association, accusing it of enabling its users to more easily access copyright infringing content linked to by users of the Usenet system. The specifics of the case, and the court order against Newzbin, are not yet known, however it could be a key case regards English copyright law in that it focused on a service which linked to rather than hosted infringing content.

The owners of file-sharing services like Limewire and BitTorrent links services like The Pirate Bay always claim they can’t be held liable for the infringement of their users, because they never actually host any of the unlicensed content which is illegally copied, they just help the actual infringers connect over the internet.

In most jurisdictions that defence has ultimately been rejected, providing such services are aware of the infringement they enable, and especially if they could introduce filters to stop such infringement but choose not to. Liability for so called contributory or authorising infringement is even more likely if a service is primarily used for infringing purposes and/or if it is marketed for such activity.

Which is all well and good, but there haven’t really been any test cases regarding the liabilities of those web services who enable others to infringe in the English courts. Although the specific details are not yet clear, this could be that case.

Certainly Ted Shapiro from the European arm of the MPA seemed to think so. He told reporters: “This is an important decision and it sends a clear message that websites focusing on providing viewers with pirated film and TV programmes infringe copyright and are liable for their actions – even where those websites don’t themselves host the content. This decision will help to support the continued investment in new legal online services and the creation of new films and television shows for enjoyment by audiences both in the UK and around the world”.

It is unlikely the court ruling will force Newzbin to close down, given it also searches for legit content on the Usenet system. However, some damages may have to be paid, and some sort of filters that, in theory at least, will stop the sharing of links to infringing content will have to be introduced.