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BT ordered to block website providing illegal access to films

A landmark High Court judgment has ruled that BT, the UK's largest internet service provider, must block access to Newzbin2, a website which allows members to download illegally copied films and TV programmes. The court case had been initiated by the Motion Picture Association that accused the website of operating "on a grand scale.”

The MPA, which brought the case on behalf of its members (Warner Bros, Fox, Disney and Paramount Pictures), told the Guardian that Newzbin2 receives more than £1 million a year from its 700,000 users who pay for copies of television programmes and films.

Newzbin 2 is a members-only site which aggregates a large amount of the illegally copied material found on Usenet discussion forums.

"This ruling from Justice Arnold is a victory for millions of people working in the UK creative industries and demonstrates that the law of the land must apply online,” says Chris Marcich, president and managing director of MPA Europe. "This court action was never an attack on ISPs but we do need their co-operation to deal with the Newzbin site which continually tries to evade the law and judicial sanction. Newzbin is a notorious pirate website which makes hundreds of thousands of copyrighted products available without permission and with no regard for the law."

The judge ruled that BT must use its blocking technology CleanFeed – which is currently used to prevent access to websites featuring child sexual abuse – to block Newzbin 2.

In an email interview before the verdict, Newzbin 2 threatened to break BT's filters. The Internet Service Providers' Association has been a fierce critic of web blocking.

This is a breakthrough for the film industry as it is the first time that an ISP has been ordered to block access to an illegal download site under UK copyright laws. Under Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, the UK courts are able to grant an injunction against an ISP if it is found they had "actual knowledge" that a user of their service infringed copyright. “Although this could be difficult to prove, High Court judge Mr Justice Arnold concluded that BT had the requisite knowledge, after hearing the evidence presented by the Motion Picture Association (MPA),” writes Nisha Parmar, from IP solicitor Izaz Ali.

“This is a huge step for producers and distributors of video entertainment - but most importantly it is great for consumers,” says Lavinia Carey, Director General of the British Video Association, commenting on the High Court ruling. “This is a great step towards recognising the need to enable the legal use of digital video services, of which there are currently 44 in the UK from which audiences can access video content on many different devices, to flourish and grow. This way everyone benefits from a healthy video entertainment market.”

According to the BVA, half of feature films revenue and a third of the revenue of TV series and dramas come from video entertainment and it is this revenue which is taken into account when companies are deciding whether to green-light new productions. Put simply – without this revenue stream, many films and programmes wouldn’t be made.

Copyright infringement, which costs the video entertainment industry over £300 million a year, eats into the return on investment. It therefore not only reduces the value of the market and our contribution to the UK economy, but it also means fewer new projects are given the go-ahead, less high-quality content is created and ultimately viewers lose out.

Following this decision the film studios are now seeking to have an injunction granted against other large ISPs in the UK. Regulatory agency Ofcom will also be writing new rules governing copyright infringement over the internet.

BT and the MPA will be back in court in October to work out how the blocking will work. BT said it will not appeal the ruling.

Story filed 03.08.11

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