Hollywood movie studios won a legal victory as Britain's highest court ordered a telecommunications company to block access to a Website serving up pirated content.
A High Court judge ruled in favor of the Motion Picture Association and ordered BT Group on July 28 to block users trying to access Newzbin2. A members-only site, Newzbin2 aggregates links to free movies and TV shows posted on Usenet boards.
The case, brought by the international arm of Hollywood's Motion Picture Association of America, would allow major studios such as Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Viacom's Paramount Pictures and Sony's Columbia Pictures to go after other ISPs to block other pirate sites. ISPs generally resist requests from copyright holders to block sites, saying the decisions lay with the courts.
The decision "clearly shows that rights holders need to prove their claims and convince a judge to make a court order. BT has consistently said that rights holders need to take this route," BT said.
In the United States, several ISPs recently signed a voluntary agreement with the music and movie businesses to a "six strikes" system that would warn users about pirating content. The agreement stopped short of requiring ISPs to block violators from going online.
While this ruling would set a legal precedent only within the United Kingdom, it may have an effect on how Hollywood pursues pirates closer to home. PROTECT-IP Act, a Hollywood-backed copyright infringement legislation that would require ISPs to blacklist violators, is currently working its way through the Senate. While copyright holders have praised the bill, there is a lot of opposition from free speech advocates who argue the bill's domain-blocking provisions are essentially promoting Internet censorship.
"The Act would allow courts to order any Internet service to stop recognizing [a] site even on a temporary restraining order ... issued the same day the complaint is filed," according to a July 5 open letter signed by more than 90 law professors from around the country.
If passed, PIPA gives the judge the authority to decide whether to block a domain after hearing only from the government. Site owners won't have the opportunity to defend themselves or to appeal the decision, which is clearly unconstitutional, law professors wrote.
The law professors noted that blocking entire domains could "suppress vast amounts of protected speech containing no infringing content whatsoever" if the domain is blocked based on finding infringing material on a single subdomain. This will definitely be an issue with Newzbin2, "Mr. White," the anonymous spokesperson of the site, noted in a blog, as there are a lot of news items posted on other subdomains that aren't infringing any copyrighted content.
While the judge noted that possibility, he said "the incidence of such uses is de minimis," prompting Mr. White to write, "We don't consider our blog to be earth shattering literature to rival Graham Green, but our readers are entitled to hear our views and news."
Newzbin actually was shut down by court order last year, but relaunched itself from an offshore server, under a new domain and a modified name, according to the MPA. Mr. White has stated in the past that Newzbin2 is "an entirely different crew from Newzbin1."
The MPA said the judge's ruling means that if Newzbin changes again, as long as it is fundamentally the same operation, the same court order will still apply.
"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 Newbin2 infringe copyright on a large scale, and in particular infringe the copyrights of the Studios in large numbers of their films and television programmes," Justice Arnold, who presided over the case, said. "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."
Even though BT is not expected to appeal the ruling, the Internet service provider has asked for some clarification, including who would be paying for the blocking. The company has the discretion to choose the blocking technology, but the judge recommended using the same Cleanfeed system that is often used to block Websites containing certain types of adult content.
The telecom giant, the largest in the United Kingdom, is also very worried about the consequences of accidentally blocking an innocent site. "If someone sues, then who will pay? We need clarification," Simon Milner, BT's head of group policy, told the BBC.
Mr. White predicted the court order will result in smaller ISPs being "railroaded into Web censorship" as the "Newzbin 2 Injunction" would give any individual or organization the ability to shut down any Web content they find objectionable. "The free Internet in the UK just had a heart attack," said Mr. White.