MPAA Takes Copyright Infringement Fight to England

UNITED KINGDOM—The Motion Picture Association of America is utilizing an English law passed in 2010 that allows copyright holders to directly petition the High Court for an injunction that would force ISPs to shutter or block access to sites accused of aiding and abetting copyright infringement.

“Today the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) began its case in the UK High Court of Justice in an attempt to convince a judge that he should force UK ISP BT to block British Usenet indexing website Newzbin,” reported ZeroPaid. “The case is the first to test the provision of the Digital Economy Act of 2010 requiring ISPs to block access to copyright infringing sites.”

The law is similar to bills introduced in the United States Congress, such as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP], both of which have been blocked by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) because he believed they would muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth…”  Like their more successful British cousin, those bills would have streamlined the legal processes necessary to take alleged piracy havens offline.

Under the provisions of the Digital Economy Act of 2010, in order for an injunction to be issued the court must consider the following:

(a) Whether a substantial proportion of the content accessible at or via each specified online location infringes copyright,

(b) The extent to which the operator of each specified online location has taken reasonable steps to prevent copyright infringement content being accessed at or via that online location or taken reasonable steps to remove copyright infringing content from that online location (or both),

(c) Whether the service provider has itself taken reasonable steps to prevent access to the specified online location,

(d) Any issues of national security raised by the Secretary of State.

(e) The extent to which the copyright owner has made reasonable efforts to facilitate legal access to content,

(f) The importance of preserving human rights, including freedom of expression, and the right to property, and

(g) Any other matters which appear to the Court to be relevant.

Newzbin has reportedly been targeted by the MPAA before, and, as so much such services do, has survived only by moving its operations from server to server and country to country. Its current host is reportedly in Sweden, which, as Pirate Bay can attest, is not the ultimate safe haven for pirates that some people would like it to be.

Still, the international cat-and-mouse game has caused the MPAA to utilize any tool available to it, including, now, the Digital Economy Act of 2010. Another tool the MPAA wants to utilize in its fight against copyright infringement, BT’s Cleanfeed, was developed to battle the proliferation of child porn and not otherwise legal pirated content.

According to an MPAA spokesperson, “BT was chosen because it’s the largest and already has the technology in place, through its Cleanfeed system, to block the site. If this case is successful, we would hope that other ISPs would take note of the result.”

The move by the MPAA is not without its detractors, however. U.K. blogger James Firth argued that not only the MPAA but a group of other rights holders, including the Premier League, the Publishers Association and the British Phonographic Industry have banded together to create a digital firewall that would keep all infringed content from being accessed.

Citing confidential documents that reveal what he calls a “desperate” attempt to influence public policy and, the legislature and the courts, Firth wrote last week, “The language used reads like copyright protection is being sold as more important than due process under law.  In any case, I can't imagine a technical solution that would allow ISPs to implement an effective block within the time scale of a ‘live event,’ irrespective of the time it takes a court to act.”

Other groups are taking direct action. “In fact the Open Rights Group are already urging action to throw out the controversial sections of the Digital Economy Act (site blocking and user disconnection) in light of the United Nations La Rue report into the promotion and protection of online rights and freedoms,” wrote Firth.

Firth also argued that he objects to the new law because the vagueness of its language could very well pull in unintended websites, and cites a recent Techdirt article that noted that Vimeo and were on Universal Music’s list of sites that engage in piracy.

Firth claims that all of the efforts by copyright holders are meant to produce an end result smothers the possibility that unauthorized content can ever get out or be accessed.

“Quite simply, he concluded, “once established, it's clear to me the scheme will be ‘voluntary’ in name alone.”