UK internet service provider ordered to block links to pirate site

Six major film studios, among them Warner Brothers, Disney and Fox, have successfully petitioned the UK High Court to order BT, the UK’s largest internet service provider, to prevent its customers from accessing a website which provides links to pirated films.

The case marks the first time that an internet service provider has been ordered to block access to such a site under UK copyright laws. The studios now intend to seek similar orders against other large internet service providers in the UK.

The website in question, Newzbin 2, showcases links to illegally-copied material, such as films and music, and is set up outside UK jurisdiction. UK courts, however, have legal power to grant an injunction against an internet service provider if it had actual knowledge that someone had used its service to infringe copyright. As the Motion Picture Association that represents film studios had managed to demonstrate to the court that BT had knowledge of exactly this, the court imposed on BT that it block access to Newzbin 2. The provider plans to use technology it developed to block access to websites featuring images of child abuse to comply with the order.

While BT has described the judgement as helpful, saying it provides clarity on a complex issue, the Motion Picture Association hailed it a victory for the online application of law. Copyright campaigners, however, have branded the decision pointless and dangerous, warning that it holds serious risks of legitimate content being blocked and service being slowed down.

The judgement comes at a time when the controversial proposal of the new UK Digital Economy Act is being criticized. In a bid to stop piracy, the new Act would enable court action against persons ignoring written warnings to stop with their illegal downloading, and could see such individuals disconnected from the web.

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