Hollywood's legal victory over BT threatens illegal file-sharing

Illegal file-sharing websites face a fight to survive after Hollywood studios won a landmark high court ruling forcing BT to block access to Newzbin2, a site providing links to illegal downloads of films, music and games.

The decision paves the way for record companies, film studios and other copyright owners, such as the Premier League, to force other major UK internet providers to ban file-sharing sites.

In what is thought to be a legal first, the Motion Picture Association of America took BT to court under the 1988 Copyright, Design and Patents Act in its capacity as an internet service provider (ISP), rather than as the source of alleged pirated content.

Frustrated in its attempts to shut down Newzbin2, it wanted to force BT to "block or at least impede access [to Newzbin2]" by its subscribers. Mr Justice Arnold said the studios, including Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures Corporation and Disney Enterprises, "made it clear that this is a test case" and intend to seek similar orders against the UK's other major ISPs. He said Newzbin2, which has around 700,000 members, provided the means for "continued large-scale infringement of the studios' copyrights".

The judge said he did not "anticipate a flood of... applications [against other ISPs]". But an industry insider said cases are likely when a formal ruling against BT is handed down in the coming months. He said other sectors of the creative industries were likely to try to force all five major ISPs, which cover 95 per cent of the UK's internet users, to block file-sharing sites.

Film and television piracy is a major cause of lost revenue, the studios argue. An Ipsos MediaCat study 2009 put the overall loss at £477m and £58m for television piracy in the UK. Newzbin2 was thought to be out of the reach of UK courts when it relaunched outside the country. Instead of hosting illegal content, the site provides signposts to files on a global network, Usenet.

Film-makers told the court they wanted BT to block Newzbin with the same system that stops access to sites hosting child sex abuse images.

Chris Marcich, the Motion Picture Association's regional president, said yesterday's ruling was "a victory for millions of people working in the UK creative industries". BT called the judgment "helpful", adding that it "clearly shows that rights holders need to prove their claims and convince a judge to make a court order".

Mike O'Connor, chief executive of Consumer Focus, said: "What we really need is the members of the Motion Picture Association to be innovative and focus on meeting UK consumer demand legally."

The Open Rights Group said website blocking was "pointless and dangerous". A statement read: "There are serious risks of legitimate content being blocked... If the goal is boosting creators' ability to make money from their work then we need to abandon these technologically naive measures."

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