A British court has ordered a leading Internet service provider to block access to a website that hosts no illegal content. It’s the first time such an order has been made, and it sets an incredibly dangerous precedent.
The site concerned is Newzbin2, which simply consists of an index of NZB files. These are used as a simpler way to download material from the Usenet newsgroups that are part of the Internet but not part of the web.
Let’s be under no illusions here: Newzbin2 indexes the content that’s most likely to be popular, and that content is largely made up of copyright infringing material: indeed, a court analysis of the files indexed in each category of links found the percentage of copyrighted material ranged from 90 percent to 99 percent.
But the key legal point is — or at least should have been — that Newzbin itself hosts no copyright-infringing material itself.
That wasn’t enough for Hollywood movie studies who argued that Internet service provider BT “should implement the same measures with regard to the Newzbin2 website as it already operates with regard to URLs reported to it by the IWF.”
The IWF is the Internet Watch Foundation, which collates details of child pornography sites and produces a list of URLs that ISPs can automatically block. (ISPs don’t have to do so, but nobody wants be the one accused of enabling child porn.)
The Hollywood studios argument was that once a BT customer uses Newzbin2 to find and download illegal material, BT is complicit in the illegality. Amazingly the judge went for this, concluding:
BT has actual knowledge of other persons using its service to infringe copyright: it knows that the users and operators of Newzbin2 infringe copyright on a large scale, and in particular infringe the copyrights of the Studios in large numbers of their films and television programmes, it knows that the users of Newzbin2 include BT subscribers, and it knows that those users use its service to receive infringing copies of copyright works made available to them by Newzbin2.
In other words, you can now be forced to block access to information or facilities if you know at least one person has used them to make committing an offense easier.
By that logic, the publishers of the London A-Z streetmap should be banned from printing any more copies, because it’s certain a getaway driver once used it.
By that logic, it’s illegal to give directions to a household goods store if somebody once bought a knife there and then committed a stabbing.
And by that logic, every single ISP should immediately block access to Google because it links directly to thousands if not millions of pages that host copyright-infringing streaming video.