Potentially major legal precedent could be set at the High Court in London today, as the Motion Picture Association (MPA) attempts to force BT to block access to the Usenet indexer Newzbin.
The legal establishment has so far mainly rejected attempts to make ISPs the arbiters of what is accessed online and liable for abuse of copyright. But the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) - pushed through at the end of its term by Labour - seeks to grant politicians the power to force ISPs to block sites and a request to appeal the bill from BT and Talk Talk was recently denied by the Court of Appeal, so it looks like the judiciary has been brought in line with political sentiment.
With the DEB set to come into law - apparently unopposed by the Coalition, and one of the many last-minute Labour bills that have been waved through by the new government - and the judiciary denying the right to appeal it, the current legal climate seems sympathetic to the MPA's legal action.
But this would still appear to be new legal precedent. Giving the power to force ISP blocking to politicians, who would then be lobbied by special interest groups, at least gives such action the veneer of public interest. The MPA seems to have decided to cut out the middle-man and obtain such blocking power itself.
The MPA is the international arm of the MPAA (MPA America), which represents US film and TV content producers. Newzbin has long been the focus of its ire for providing the technology to search for content on Usenet. Back in March 2010 the UK High Court found it liable for copyright infringement, and rather than pay up Newzbin went into administration. It soon reopened as Newzbin2, however, this time organised such that it was outside the reach of UK law.
BT has apparently been singled out as the largest UK ISP, and the MPA is hoping the other ISPs will take note if it wins its case. Newzbin has always insisted its technology is not designed to infringe copyright, and is merely an indexing and search tool.