Film industry asks court to force BT to cut off access to alleged copyright-infringing website

Out-Law News | 30 Jun 2011 | 10:06 am | 3 min. read

Film industry representatives have asked a UK court to force BT to block its customers' access to a UK-operated website it says violates copyright rights.

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) has asked the High Court to issue an injunction that would compel BT to cut off access to the Newzbin website, a spokeswoman for the MPA said.

The MPA is challenging BT under Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, the MPA spokeswoman said. It is the first time that copyright holders have used this section of the Act to seek a court injunction against an internet service provider (ISP), the MPA said.

That section of the Act gives the High Court, or in Scotland the Court of Session, the power to grant an injunction against a service provider if it had 'actual knowledge' that someone has used its service to infringe copyright.

The Act does not specify what purpose an injunction must serve. Section 97A implements the requirements of the EU Copyright Directive which states that countries must ensure that copyright holders have the right to apply for injunctions against intermediaries, such as ISPs, whose services are used to infringe copyright.

The MPA said it hopes to convince the High Court to issue an injunction for the purpose of forcing BT to withdraw their customers' access to Newzbin.

"The order would prevent the site from using BT's internet service to make money through copyright infringement," the MPA said in a statement.

"Around 700,000 members use the Newzbin service generating the operators in excess of £1 million per year," the MPA statement said.

The MPA is an international arm of Motion Picture Association America which represents film companies Disney, Warner and Paramount among others. It says it is targeting BT because it is the UK's largest ISP and because the company already has the technology available to block access to Newzbin, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"BT was chosen because it’s the largest and already has the technology in place, through its Cleanfeed system, to block the site,” a spokesman for the MPA said, according to the Daily Telegraph report.

“If this case is successful, we would hope that other ISPs would take note of the result,” the MPA spokesman said, according to the report.

BT already uses its Cleanfeed system to block access to child sex abuse images, the BBC report said.

The company confirmed that it has been asked to appear in court, according to the Telegraph.

“We can confirm that we will be appearing in court, following an application for an injunction by members of the MPA," a BT spokesman said, according to the Telegraph's report.

"We have no further comment to make at this stage," the spokesman said, according to the report.

In 2010 the High Court ordered Newzbin to remove copyright-infringing material from its website following complaints by the MPA. Newzbin went into administration shortly after the ruling but the site was taken over by new owners and now operates overseas, the MPA said.

Newzbin hosts copyrighted material in disregard of UK law, the MPA said.

"Newzbin has no regard for UK law and it is unacceptable that it continues to infringe copyright on a massive and commercial scale when it has been ordered to stop by the High Court," Chris Marcich, European president of the MPA, said.

"We have explored every route to get Newzbin to take down the infringing material and are left with no option but to challenge this in the courts," Marcich said.

Provisions within UK law could give copyright holders another basis for challenging whether ISPs should intervene when their service is used to access illegally copied works.

The Digital Economy Act (DEA) requires Ofcom to write new rules governing copyright infringements over the internet.

Ofcom, the UK's media regulator, drafted plans last year that would force ISPs to hand over details of customers who were illegally sharing files of copyrighted material to copyright holders to allow them to take action. If the Government enacts Ofcom's draft code ISPs could have to suspend users' internet access if they are found to be illegally downloading copyrighted material.

BT and fellow ISP TalkTalk lost a High Court legal challenge against the part of the DEA that could make ISPs responsible for the copyright infringement of users. The Court of Appeal has refused to hear an appeal by the ISPs. They had argued that the DEA violated EU privacy and electronic communications laws.

Last week a leaked report detailed proposals by copyright holders to set up a voluntary code to tackle online copyright infringement. The proposals include the suggestion that an "expert body" should decide if websites should be blocked. The body would then ask the courts to issue injunctions that would order ISPs to prevent their customers visiting the infringing sites.

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