While major entertainment corporations are working hard at censoring the internet in the United States through the PROTECT IP Act, it corporate sponsored censorship has already become a reality in the UK thanks to what some have referred to as a landmark court case.
Legally speaking, the internet got a little more censored recently. The Telegraph is reporting that Hollywood has won a major court case in which they are now, for now, able to compel ISPs to block access to, really, any website they pick and choose in the name of combating copyright infringement. At stake was general access to a website known as NewzBin2.
NewzBin2 is a website that offers an index of NZB files. NZB indexing sites are generally simply a list of small files that are merely metadata. The NZB files points to a file made available on one of the oldest known file-sharing networks that is still used quite a lot – UseNet. The file is a bit like a .torrent file, only the file is on a server – or maybe several servers – instead of on other people’s computers. The actual downloading typically doesn’t happen on the NZB indexing site nor is the NZB indexing site keeping track of any data flowing to and from the user.
An NZB file may be convenient, but it simply isn’t necessary for downloading anything on UseNet (access to UseNet providers, sure, but not the NZB file)
So, knowing this, the only thing the court ruling really does is enable Hollywood to censor the internet in the UK. Blocking NewzBin2 will amount to nothing in the end except maybe a temporary minor inconvenience for some people. Many already point to the fact that an encrypted connection will circumvent whatever the ISP throws down against its own users – and if you’re using UseNet regularly, there’s a good chance you’d know about how to hide your connection from ISP level censorship anyway, I think.
What is a little disconcerting is what the judge said in his ruling. From the report:
‘In my judgment it follows that BT has actual knowledge of other persons using its service to infringe copyright: it knows that the users and operators of Newbin2 infringe copyright on a large scale, and in particular infringe the copyrights of the Studios in large numbers of their films and television programmes,’ said Justice Arnold.
In opposing the order, BT had argued that Newzbin2 also links to lawful content, but the court said it was far outweighed by pirated material and that ‘BT’s best shot was to point to a reference to the 1891 Lancashire census’.
If the judge is suggesting that ISPs know what everyone on their network is doing, then isn’t that like saying that the operators of a major subway network know exactly where everyone in the network is going? Sure, whoever is controlling the network might be able to track a handful of individuals, but trying to track every person is way too demanding as the amount of man hours to make sure it knows the movements of every user is simply impractical.
Even scarier is the suggestion that lawful content is no excuse to stop the blocking of a website. It’s very difficult to really know where to begin with that. How much content has to be infringing in order for the website to be blocked? Will it have to be more than 50% infringing content? 25% infringing content? One song that happens to have three notes that are similar to another song? Where’s the bar set here? That point is not reflected in the report and if the judgement doesn’t specify what the level is, it’s not completely illogical to suggest that Hollywood can really block every website in existence. How many websites have at least a reference to copyrighted material (i.e. a message on a forum saying ‘Listening to Kiss right now.’)?
The amusing part is the fact that the censorship of NewzBin2 will be put in place in the Fall. No doubt this will give NewzBin2 plenty of time to figure out how to bi-pass this measure for it’s UK users. Even better is the fact that this only affects BT currently and similar motions will be brought to other ISPs. I don’t see how NewzBin2 simply changing it’s website to another name for its British users won’t defeat this in any way. Call the site ‘Fuzzybunniesjumpinginthefield.com’ and allow access to the NewzBin2 services. If you plan on finding ways to circumvent British censorship in order to download the entire Adbobe Suites in the future, you only have until the end of the Summer holidays to figure it out!
In the end, this will do little more than damage the internet infrastructure as more methods to circumvent censorship measures will be developed. Activities like this will probably have an affect on users wanting to use the internet for legitimate purposes, but it’s unlikely that this will even come close to putting a dent on file-sharing.
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