BT Ordered to Block Access to Piracy Search Engine

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In what is the first invocation of Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1998 against an ISP, and is an interesting development for the content industry, six major film studios brought an action against BT to the British High Court to have Usenet search engine Newzbin2 blocked.

This blocking is expected to be enforced a little later this year.

Newzbin2 itself is a relatively small search engine that helps users find content stored across Usenet (yes, it's still prolific  -- despite pre-dating the World Wide Web as an internet service by nearly a decade). The content it uncovers is, these days, no longer geeky news bites and tech documents, but more often major studio films, music, and, increasingly, TV programmes.

Newzbin2 is also (slightly unsurprisingly) a re-birth of Newzbin. Newzbin was commercially shut down by the courts under a different technicality -- breach of copyright -- in the middle of 2010. The company itself was proven to be in knowledgeable breach of copyright and fined £230,000.

Newzbin Ltd filed for a creditors voluntary liquidation, having been taken over by a David Harris just a few days before the trial began.

Shortly before Newzbin was fined and put out of business, the code was rumoured to have been stolen, and indeed NewzBin2 emerged shortly after. The organisers denied having anything to do with Newzbin, but a traced payment to Newzbin2's subscription systems by FACT (The Federation Against Copyright Theft) revealed that Mr. David Harris was actually the sole director of the company who received the payment. He denies having anything to do with the website (!). 

In the high court judgment there is a significant amount of detail about the proportion of content listed on the site - indicating that the weighting of the piracy was a significant problem for the studios concerned. There is little real data visible about the actual quantity of downloads - however in this case there is also little concern: it is a test case, and it boils down to ‘did they make money' - which they did by charging a nominal £0.30p per month for a subscription) and ‘did they provide copyright material illegally' which is probably an argument of semantics since while it was accessed from Usenet, the access was facilitated by them. That's controversial, hence the test case. Interestingly the legal target this time was not an unidentified group of pirates, but instead the much easier-to-hit target of BT. 

BT's line was ultimately to ensure that its business was not effected, and to share the concern of the studios and support the court.

Its obvious BT will shutter Newzbin2 now, and that this is the thin end of the knife. But is this really the way content providers will save themselves? Perhaps more time is needed on better models and less time in courts.

Time will tell.

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