BT ordered to block access to pirate content

28 July 2011 | Kavit Majithia

In a landmark case against BT, the high court has ordered that the former UK incumbent block its internet subscribers from accessing a website that provides links to pirate content.

It is the first time an ISP has been restricted from allowing access to one particular site, and could result in an increasing crackdown on all forms of piracy that is streamed over ISP networks. A total of six film studios, part of the Motion Picture Association (MPA) launched legal action against the telco, and the ruling will indicate to rivalling ISPs the need for network operators to take a greater responsibility in what content is delivered on its networks. It could also mean Content Delivery Networks (CDN) and ISPs will have to cooperate more closely to tackle the more controversial content delivered to end users on ISP networks.

The website in question is Newzbin 2, which makes pirate-copied content of films, video games and music- much of the high bandwidth applications congesting networks in the present market, and has over 700,000 members. Similar orders have occurred across Europe, but not to this scale. Italy’s ISPs are introducing blocks on websites that are subject of infringement, without court order. Initially, the high court in the UK ordered the website to clear its site of any infringing content, but this did not prove effective for various reasons.

In delivering his verdict earlier today, Justice Arnold said the decision “follows that BT has actual knowledge of other persons using its service to infringe copyright”. He continued: “It knows that the users and operators of Newzbin 2 infringe copyright on a large scale... it knows that the users of Newzbin 2 include BT subscribers.”

BT has released a statement claiming the ruling “provides clarity.” “It clearly shows that rights holders need to prove their claims and convince a judge to make a court order. BT has consistently said that rights holders need to take this route.”

Both the MPA and BT will be back in court in October to establish how the restrictions will work.

Industry reaction:

Lee Myall, director at European carrier Interoute, believes the decision is a blow for BT and the wider market considering the role ISPs now must play in monitoring content on its networks.

“It is disappointing that the courts have ruled in favour of the movie studios,” he said. “This ruling is a slippery slope for ISPs. ISPs have now become fair game for anyone with an issue regarding content on the internet. It won’t be long before another tug of war between artists and ISPs takes centre stage. The shortcomings and potential ramifications of this decision will be endless.”

Software investment company, The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) takes a different view, and says the ruling should promote encouragement across the industry to restrict such websites from operating.

Julian Hobbins, General Counsel at FAST commented: “This ruling is a watershed, and legitimate online sites will be encouraged, as one cannot compete with online piracy where paid for product is available for free. The decision to pursue the website via ISPs represents a change of tactic for rights’ holders and one that does not represent an attack on service providers.”

Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum said this ruling should come as a relief to ISPs because it means they, themselves, do not have to police content on the internet. It leaves the decision to the courts of what sites should be accessible.

“It is time consuming to investigate all the claims made, and the judgement calls are difficult in terms of what is illegitimate and so on.” He continued: “The other thing is when they do start blocking things it is going to be unpopular with those running the sites. Most operators would rather not become the police - they would rather other parties take on that role. In this case BT objected to blocking the site, and that was what forced the association to go to the courts instead, and BT welcomed the court decision on the basis that this is how the process should work.”

We will be updating this as comment comes in from the industry on this breaking story. Please also leave comments on your thoughts regarding the ruling.