'Pirate' link site stands defiant

Screengrab of Newzbin 2, BBC
Image caption After going into administration, Newzbin was sold to new owners who resurrected it

A website which offers links to pirated movies has threatened to 'break' BT's internet filtering system if the company tries to block it.

The Motion Picture Association has applied for an injunction that would compel BT to stop its UK customers accessing Newzbin 2.

A High Court ruling on the case is expected on Thursday and may pave the way for further website blocking.

The BBC spoke to one of Newzbin 2's administrators ahead of the verdict.

He did not expect the judge to find in the website's favour.

"In most legal systems the verdict goes to the man with the biggest pile of gold," said Mr White, who represents the website but did not wish to disclose his real identity.

Breaking blocks

Newzbin 2 is a members-only site which aggregates a large amount of the illegally copied material found on Usenet discussion forums.

The original Newzbin site was closed down after a High Court ruling in 2010 ordered it to take down links to copyrighted films and TV programmes.

At the time, Mr Justice Kitchin said: "I have found that the defendant well knows that it is making available to its premium members infringing copies of films."

Mr White pledged that Newzbin 2 would attempt to "ensure continuity of service to our UK users" if a judge rules against it again.

He warned that keeping the site up may involve attempts to break BT's Cleanfeed filter, which the ISP currently uses to block access to sites featuring child sex abuse.

"Our users don't wish Cleanfeed to work and based on a preliminary technical assessment we think it will be trivially breakable. We have the sand, and if needed we will pour it in Cleanfeed's engine oil," he threatened.

BT responded: "We would be appalled if any group were to try to sabotage this technology as it helps to protect the innocent from highly offensive and illegal content."

Whiskey lifestyle

Following the injunction against the original site, Newzbin was wound down. The MPA believes that Newzbin 2 is just a new name for the same group and that it has moved overseas to avoid legal challenges.

Its successor was styled as a "separate organisation" that was not UK-based and therefore not subject to the injunction.

"Newzbin and Newzbin 2 are entirely different. We have no inherited equipment or personnel. We started Newzbin 2 because we were users of the service who disagreed with what happened to them and wanted a service to replace it," said Mr White.

It does however claim the same defence as its predecessor.

"We are the Google of Usenet, that is, merely a search engine and like Google we provide links to places on the internet where infringing material may be found," said Mr White.

The Performing Rights Society For Music (PRS) is currently campaigning for legitimate search engines to highlight differences between legal and illegal content.

Links to sites that offer legal downloads would get green tags, while links to illegal download sites would be flagged in red.

Those determined to download content for free have shifted behaviour in recent months as governments tighten their laws around peer-to-peer file-sharing.

Many now opt for "file lockers" - cloud storage systems where pirated content is uploaded and made available to selected individuals. Such sites are often password protected, making their content less liable to detection.

Image caption Google chairman Eric Schmidt is opposed to web blocking

While website blocking is seen by many rightsholders as the answer to the problem, it has proved controversial.

Google's chairman Eric Schmidt vowed to fight any attempts to ban such sites in the US, saying that it set a dangerous precedent which could be misused by censorious governments.

It is an argument also favoured by Newzbin 2.

"We don't think it will be confined to sites falsely accused of helping copyright infringement. It is certain that others with a censorship agenda will use the precedent set by this to require blocking of 'hate speech', libel, anorexia sites, sexism or any other ism that is trendy," said Mr White.

The decision to pursue the website via ISPs represents a change of tactic for rightsholders but the MPA is keen to stress that it does not represent an attack on service providers.

"It is the result of not being able to identify and enforce action against offshore sites - nobody knows who they are run by or exactly where they are based," it said in a statement.

"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," it added.

The MPA said that it had chosen BT because it was the UK's largest ISP.

But industry body the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) said plans to use its filtering technology on a wider scale would not work.

"Currently CleanFeed is dealing with a small, rural road in Scotland. Trying to put Newzbin and other sites into the same blocking technology would be a bit like shutting down the M1. It is not designed to do that," ISPA council member James Blessing told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

"Rip-off prices"

The music and film industries argue that tough action is needed on pirates because illegal downloading is destroying their businesses.

Mr White said that the movie industry's claims about losing billions of dollars of revenue to illegal downloading were "pure fiction".

He claimed that Newzbin 2 is "barely used for finding music."

"Everyone uses iTunes," he said.

His views seemed to be supported by former EMI executive Douglas C Merrill who revealed at a recent conference that his own research showed that users of the file sharing service LimeWire were also iTunes' biggest customers.

Copyright owners, said Mr White, have always fought new technologies.

"The copyright industry has run this argument against the manufacturers of Pianola rolls in the 1920s, against vinyl records in the jazz era, against cassette tapes in the 1970s and VHS tape technology in the 1980s," he said.

"If the MPA want to kill us they can do so virtually overnight and we'll tell them how: learn from the music industry and license work at non rip-off prices which the public regard as fair and in a form they find convenient," he said.

According to the MPA, Newzbin has around 700,000 members and generates an income in excess of £1m per year.

Mr White denies this.

"We make enough money for strippers and Jack Daniels but Ferraris may be some way off," he said.

More on this story