Digital Legal Top Stories

Music and net industries respond to Newzbin ruling

By | Published on Friday 29 July 2011


Needless to say, the music industry has welcomed yesterday’s ruling in the Newzbin2 case.

As previously reported, the Motion Picture Association successfully got themselves an injunction forcing BT to block access to the Newzbin website, which provides links to unlicensed movie content. An earlier court ruling had ordered Newzbin directly to remove all links to unlicensed films, but the site’s operators just shut down their UK operations and relaunched in Sweden.

The MPA argued that when copyright infringing operations like Newzbin choose to jurisdiction-hop to avoid the implications of legal action, the only option for rights owners is to demand ISPs block access to those infringing sites. They would possibly also add that while more savvy web users may be able to circumvent any blocks, most casual web surfers will not.

The ruling is significant because it’s the first time a website-blocking injunction has been issued in the UK on the grounds of copyright infringement. It possibly opens the door for any kind of copyright owner to go to court to ask for an injunction to force net firms to block access to any website that exists primarily to enable or simplify copyright infringement.

Welcoming the ruling, the boss of record label trade body BPI, Geoff Taylor, told reporters: “This judgment sends a clear signal that ISPs have a role to play in protecting their customers from rogue websites that exploit and profit from creative work without permission, ignore takedown notices and locate themselves beyond the reach of law enforcement”.

Of course, not everyone thought that Judge Richard Arnold had got it right. The Open Rights Group, which advocates copyright reform, said: “Website blocking is pointless and dangerous. 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. If the goal is boosting creators’ ability to make money from their work then we need to abandon these technologically naive measures, focus on genuine market reforms, and satisfy unmet consumer demand”.

Meanwhile, The Pirate Party, which wants radical changes to the copyright system, said: “This is a terrible day for ordinary British internet users. The judgement sets a worrying precedent for internet censorship. This is the thin end of a very large wedge. It also leaves the coalition [government]’s internet policy in disarray. It appears that our digital rights are to be determined by Hollywood, not parliament”.

The response from the internet service provider community was mixed. BT opposed the injunction in court, and the net firms in general do not support moves that increase their role as the police of the internet. However, for the ISPs, injunctions of this kind, that require a considered judicial process before being issued, are the lesser of various evils with regards efforts by the content industries to clamp down on piracy. For the ISPs, injunctions through the High Court are preferable to either the three-strikes system that targets individual net users or a high-speed web-blocking system, especially one administered by a government body rather than a court. Though they are still worried rulings like that in the Newzbin case are the thin end of the wedge.

BT’s Director Of Group Policy Simon Milner told reporters: “This is a helpful judgement, which provides clarity on this complex issue. It 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. We will return to court after the summer to explain what kind of order we believe is appropriate”.

Meanwhile, the Internet Service Providers Association said in a statement: “ISPA has long maintained that this is an issue rights holders should seek to address in court, rather than through voluntary means, and today’s ruling should go some way to offering clarity on what is a complex issue. However, concerns about over-blocking, ease of circumvention and increased encryption are widely recognised which means blocking is not a silver bullet to stop online copyright infringement. 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”.