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Press And Media Newzbin – MPA brings the fight to BTs doorstep

July 5, 2011

We have written previously on copyright holders’ efforts to effect the removal of sites linking to or hosting infringing content, and also on new measures being introduced by the Digital Economy Act, which provide for injunctive relief where a website “has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright”.  If successful, a recent claim brought against Newzbin by the UK Motion Picture Association may mean that such recourse is also available under current copyright law.

Last year Newzbin failed to successfully defend itself against allegations of copyright infringement in the High Court, and was ordered to stop linking to infringing content.  Far from being the end of the matter, and serving to illustrate one of the primary difficulties people face when seeking the removal of content, the site later returned under new management in the Seychelles, out of the reach of the UK courts.

So, no longer able to reach the host directly, the UK Motion Picture Association has now moved to limit the availability of the website, bringing an action to force the UK’s biggest Internet Service Provider to block user access to the site.  Although the site is hosted abroad, ISPs like BT can prevent their own customers from accessing it – while not likely to be 100% effective, such action would certainly put a considerable dent in any website’s traffic.

The website, rather than hosting infringing content, only allows users to search links to the material, but this was not an effective defense in the suit brought last year, which eventually led Newzbin to enter administration before resurfacing abroad.  There are numerous similar sites in operation, many of them hosted outside of the UK, and ISP blocks could prove to be an effective countermeasure.  However, it will be interesting to see whether sites are able to evade them by switching domain names or hosts.

This is the first example of a UK case where an ISP may be forced to block access in this way, and BT has raised concerns that, if the MPA are successful, it will set a precedent liable to be exploited by “countless other” rights holders.  This type of mechanism might lead to hundreds of requests that sites be blocked due to defamatory content, or confidential business and personal information.  So, it is important that if there is a place for such relief in UK law, its availability is strictly controlled to avoid abuse.  BT predicts that, if the availability of blocking orders is confirmed, rights groups will seek access restrictions to 400 sites each year.