Newzbin: What happens next?

  • 29 July 2011
  • From the section Technology
  • comments
Newzbin screenshot

It's safe to say that Britain's internet service providers (ISPs) and creative industries don't see eye-to-eye but in recent months they've been agreed on one thing.

The Newzbin case was going to be a key moment for the regulation of the internet in this country and the battle against piracy.

Yesterday Mr Justice Arnold delivered his verdict in the case which saw Hollywood squaring up against BT.

And the result of the case looks like game, set and match to the movie industry, with the judge ordering BT to block access to Newzbin 2. So what happens now?

If you believe BT, nothing much.

After fighting hard for months against the idea that an internet provider should have any role in blocking piracy, the telecoms giant put out a statement welcoming "a helpful judgement which provides clarity on this complex issue".

That might seem bizarre, but BT believes there is still plenty to play for.

Power shift

There was no time yesterday to work out the exact way in which the blocking of Newzbin 2 will take place. The warring parties will return to the High Court in October where BT says it will "explain what kind of order we believe is appropriate".

BT suggested in court that the order could apply only to specific files identified by the studios rather than the whole site, but the judge made it clear in his ruling that as just about everything on Newzbin 2 is infringing content, he wasn't minded to ask the studios to provide a daily list of offending files.

Just how the blocking mechanism will be applied and who will check whether the process is working is far from clear.

But come October, when an order is issued, it will be taken to apply not just to BT but to all the major ISPs, who got a letter before the case asking them to act against Newzbin 2.

Until then of course, the Seychelles-registered website, now enjoying a marketing boost from the case, will continue to operate freely. That will mean plenty more cash for "Mr White", "Mr Pink", and its other owners who seem to be fans of Reservoir Dogs.

You won't find many outside the movie business who believe that blocking Newzbin 2 will have a major effect on piracy. But what the ruling does do is change the balance of power in the standoff between the creative industries and the ISPs.

Under pressure

In recent months, the government has been putting pressure on the two sides to agree a voluntary code whereby copyright infringing sites could be blocked following an order from a judge, but without a lengthy case like the one we've just seen.

When I suggested on air yesterday that ministers would now be more likely to press that kind of agreement on the ISPs, BT's Simon Milner disagreed with my analysis.

But last night I spotted a series of tweets from Ed Vaizey, the culture minister who has been brokering the talks over web blocking.

The first three welcomed the Newzbin ruling, echoing the views of creative industry leaders. The minister, who was apparently at home babysitting, was then engaged in what you might term vigorous debate about the rights and wrongs of copyright by other Twitter users.

Among his points: "Harry Potter made millions for UK. Shld u pay to see or get 4 free?"

twitter screenshots

So it is not only BT that thinks the Newzbin case has clarified the issue.

The government minister most closely involved in the debate about internet regulation seems to have made his mind up - and the ISPs can expect a lot more pressure to help out in the battle against online piracy.