Yesterday a landmark decision was made in British court. A UK judge ruled that Internet service provider, BT must use their new censorship technology to prevent subscribers from accessing a file sharing website by the name of Newzbin2. BT’s censorship technology, called Cleanfeed, was originally intended for blocking child pornography.
This case between the MPA and BT has been ongoing for some time, but ruling was finally issued on July 28. The introductory text of the ruling itself is interesting.
“In these circumstances, the Studios contend that the only way in which they can obtain effective relief to prevent, or at least reduce the scale of, these infringements of their copyrights is by means of an order against BT (and thereafter the other ISPs) of the kind now sought.”
This entire idea that the only way to prevent or reduce piracy is through technology developed for a separate and more explicit purpose is ridiculous. Cleanfeed was developed specifically to “minimise the availability of… child sexual abuse images hosted anywhere in the world.” To leverage something with such a specific purpose for something much broader, and completely different in nature, seems inappropriate.
The MPA is requesting that Cleanfeed be used to prevent access to content of their choosing. That seems problematic for a few reasons. First, does that mean the MPA can simply request a site be blocked and it will be so? Will there be some investigation in place to at least prove that a site is distributing copyrighted material or are we to take the MPA at their word? Second, the MPA has to know that for every one site that is blocked another two will pop up to replace it. Using this technology isn’t a solution, but instead a bandaid to make content owners feel better.
The other open question is does this ruling make ISPs responsible for the content provided by websites accessed by their subscribers? It seems like it does and that appears to be a very slippery slope. Just the fact that this ruling has happened is going to mean the MPA will go after every other ISP in the region with a similar injunction.
BT is contending that using Cleanfeed for this purpose will be highly ineffective. They make the correct point that users will quickly find ways to circumvent the block and get to the content they desire. The judge agrees that the tools are there but essentially says users are too lazy to make use of them. “Even assuming that they all have the ability to acquire such expertise, it does not follow that they will all wish to expend the time and effort required.” That seems quite hopeful and the more likely outcome is that subscribers will make good use of the tools available to get the content they want.
Newzbin2 has responded to the ruling but there isn’t exactly any new information in their response. BT has opted not to appeal. BT and the MPA will meet back up in court in October to figure out exactly how this block is going to work.