A landmark ruling at the High Court means that BT, the UK’s biggest broadband provider, must now block access to Newzbin2, a website linking people to illegal movie downloads.
The decision was hailed as a “victory for the creative industries” by the Motion Picture Association (MPA), which brought the case against BT, suggesting it would also seek similar orders against other “significant ISPs in the UK”.
So instead of fighting piracy in the home, as the Digital Economy Act aims to do with warning letters and threats of disconnection, rights holders are now looking to completely block access to offending websites - using technology designed to curb child abuse images on the net.
And after the ruling, getting similar sites blacklisted will become even easier.
‘Pointless and dangerous’
While website blocking might stop casual users downloading illegally, it is a solution that comes with a whole host of other problems.
A spokesman from the ISPA, which has opposed such measures in the past, said: “Concerns about over-blocking, ease of circumvention and increased encryption are widely-recognised, which means that blocking is not a silver bullet to stop online copyright infringement.”
Digital rights campaigners the Open Rights Group (ORG) even went as far as branding the practice “pointless and dangerous”.
“These judgements won't work to stop infringement or boost creative industries. And there are serious risks of legitimate content being blocked and service slowdown,” said Peter Bradwell, copyright campaigner at the ORG.
Paving the way for website blocking
These critics aren’t advocating piracy, simply pointing out that website blocking won’t solve the problem. Even BT, which welcomed the ruling because it used the courts rather than the controversial Digital Economy Act, said this was not a “perfect solution”.
“This is more about a deterrent against casual users,” said a spokesman, “and providing a precedent - it will not stop the determined pirate.”
He added that the MPA has “a list of 400 websites it wants to block” and although the process would become easier as more orders were made using Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act used in the ruling, the case with Newzbin2 was clear-cut.
“Almost everything on the Newzbin2 website infringed copyright,” explained BT’s spokesman, “but other cases could be much more complicated.” The exact details of how Newzbin2 will be blocked - and who will pay for the process - will be decided at another hearing in October.
Provide legal alternatives
For many critics of the High Court ruling, the solution lies in accommodating consumers rather than cracking down on piracy.
“Website blocking only treats the symptoms, not the cause of why consumers infringe copyright,” explained Mike O’Connor, chief executive at Consumer Focus. “Blocking access to Newzbin2 is short-sighted and will not reduce demand for Hollywood movies.
“Consumers will seek out other sources and the only long term solution is more and better legal alternatives.”
He cited “release windows” imposed by Hollywood studios as one example that pushes some consumers to seek out unlicensed sites - something that benefits digital TV giant Sky. O’Connor added: “Currently Sky has an exclusive deal so that for 15 months after cinema release it is the only provider that can show a Hollywood movie online or on television.
“Content producers want a market structure that generates maximum profits,” he added. “Meeting consumer demand for movies by offering services legally with different price points, either through subscription or pay-per-view, is the only viable long-term solution.
“The issue is not that consumers won’t pay - after all Newzbin2 is a subscription service.”