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Wholesale copyright infringement – otherwise known as piracy – has been a feature of the internet almost since its inception. In coming decisively to the aid of six major film and television studios, however, the High Court showed that perpetrators, even if based abroad, have nowhere to hide.
The case concerned five websites that provided their users with links to others from which copyright-protected movies and TV shows, which would otherwise have only been available on subscription, could be downloaded free of charge. Although the websites did not provide the content themselves, they created a user-friendly environment for users, complete with accessible catalogues of copyright works.
The studios launched proceedings under Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, seeking orders requiring the UK's six largest internet service providers (ISPs) to block user access to the websites. The ISPs did not oppose the application.
Granting the orders sought, the Court noted that the websites were all operated from abroad. There was no evidence that any of them had a legitimate purpose and the studios' efforts to contact their operators had not resulted in their activities being curtailed. The operators clearly knew, or had to be taken to know, that they were providing access to copyright works that had been placed on the internet without the studios' consent.
The websites were operated for profit. English was their default language and their services were clearly targeted at UK users. By providing links to pirated works, they purported to grant rights that were not theirs to give. They positively encouraged and facilitated infringing acts of copying by users. Given that the public had no legitimate interest in downloading infringing copies of copyright works to the detriment of the studios, the orders were both justified and necessary.