A High Court judge has ordered BT to block its customers from accessing Newzbin2, a site which provides links to pirated material, the BBC reports.
This is the first time an Internet service provider has been ordered to block access to a site like this. The legal action against BT was launched by the Motion Picture Association, which represents several Hollywood studios including Paramount, Fox and Disney.
Newzbin hosts links to copyright material, including movies, by searching Usenet discussion groups. The MPA already had Newzbin shut down last March, but the site popped up again under the name Newzbin2, operating from the Seychelles.
The MPA's thinking was obviously that if it couldn't shut the site down, it could block users from accessing it. And it's worked, because now a judge has told BT it must prevent its customers from accessing the site. That will affect millions of UK Internet users, as BT is the largest ISP in the UK, although not (it seems) users of other ISPs who buy their bandwidth from BT Wholesale. Not, at least, until the MPA slaps them with lawsuits.
The ruling could pave the way for rights owners to request blocks to other sites, a slippery slope that could see UK Web surfers' access to the Internet seriously restricted. That's something BT itself warned against, saying such a ruling would be the "thin end of the wedge".
Now a precedent has been set, it could be much harder for other Internet providers to resist such rulings. Indeed, the MPA has already signalled its intention to go after other ISPs, and has said the ruling against BT is a "victory for millions of people working in the UK creative industries". Millions? Really?
"Newzbin is a notorious pirate website which makes hundreds of thousands of copyrighted products available without permission and with no regard for the law," the group said in a statement.
It feels very heavy-handed to us. Promoting services such as Spotify and LoveFilm that offer reasonably priced, legal and convenient digital access to copyright material seems like much the best way to combat piracy, rather than forcing ISPs to try to block dodgy websites used by a small minority.
What do you think? Is this an erosion of our online freedoms? Should we be restricted in the sites we can visit? Or is it right to stamp out piracy in any way possible? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, or on our Facebook page.