In a move designed to send shivers down the backs of downloaders everywhere, the High Court of Justice has ruled that a company providing a gateway to binary Usenet files can be held liable for breach of copyright carried out by its users.

In the ruling, Newzbin Ltd - a UK-based company which provides links to files held on Usenet servers, enabling its customers to easily find and download copyright and public domain content - was found to be engaging in copyright infringement, despite not actually hosting any files itself. Although the details of the court order have not yet been made public, it is believed that the court will order Newzbin to cease its operations until such time as it can reasonably guarantee that copyright material is not made available through its service without rights holders' permissions.

The ruling was welcomed with open arms by UK rights group the Motion Picture Association, with general counsel Ted Shapiro stating that Newzbin represented "a source of immense damage to the creative sector in the UK and worldwide," and claiming that the ruling "sends a clear message that websites focusing on providing viewers with pirated films and TV programmes infringe copyright and are liable for their actions even where those websites don't themselves host the content."

The move comes as file sharers come under increased scrutiny ahead of the proposed Digital Economy Bill, which seeks to introduce punishments including disconnection from the Internet for those who stand accused of participating in the illicit trade of copyright content online.

Although considered a victory for rights holders such as the MPA and the companies it represents, the court's ruling will come as a blow to those who used Newzbin's services and could very well spell the end of the company's operations in the UK.

Do you believe that services such as Newzbin should be held accountable for the actions of their users, or are they blameless as they don't host the files in question themselves? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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