Legal experts warn of 'notice-and-takedown' culture

Landmark net piracy case to have major UK web impact

A High Court judge has ruled that ISP BT must block a website which provides movie download links but legal experts have warned this has set a major new precident.

The judge ordered BT to use the firm’s Cleanfeed content blocking system, a system designed to block child pornography, to block access to the web site. Virtually all major UK ISPs use BTs system given former Home Office Minister Vernon Croaker’s threat to ISPs to adopt a similar system or face legislation.

The order is being seen as having the potential to open the floodgates for legal attempts to block access to web sites for a range of complaints. The introduction of a universal web filtering system was highly controversial precisely because ISPs and civil liberties groups believed that it would inevitably be expanded to result in ‘censorship by the back door’.

BT argued against using Clearweed to block access to Newzbin saying that to do so there "would be nothing to stop countless other applicants coming forward to demand that BT block," and raising the possibility that further attempts would be made to use the filtering system in a wider array of complaints including "defamatory allegations or private information."

Mr Justice Arnold rejected BT’s arguments, concluding that court action to block a website was still likely to be costly. "I consider it probable that they will concentrate their resources on seeking relief in respect of the more egregious infringers," he said.

However Ian de Freitas, IP partner at the law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said that the volume of legal action "misses the point."

"Now that this test case establishes that an injunction can be granted, intermediaries are likely to adopt a notice-and-takedown approach which has operated for many years in relation to defamation claims," de Freitas said.

"Once notified of claimed IP infringements by rights-holders, intermediaries are unlikely to want to test the position in expensive court proceedings."

Should the landscape of the internet turn out as de Fretas warms, companies with hefty legal resources could intimidate individuals with the threat of legal action much more easily than they can today.

The exact details of the order and the final wording will only be made available in October.

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