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High court finds Newzbin's 'ops' man liable for copyright infringement

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The High Court has found a man liable for copyright infringement carried out on the file-sharing Newzbin websites and ruled that he is also part of a conspiracy to infringe copyrights and defraud film studios.

Mr Justice Barling said David Harris was jointly responsible along with his Newzbin Limited business for copyright-infringing activities on the Newzbin and Newzbin2 websites over a period that in total covers nearly three years.

The High Court had previously found that the original Newzbin website infringed copyrights belonging to rights-holders in the film industry, and then in 2011 ordered BT and other internet service providers to block their customers' access to the Newzbin2 site – which had emerged after the original Newzbin site shut down.

"I am satisfied that Harris is [jointly liable along with Newzbin Limited for the wrongful act] ... of the copyright infringing operations via the [original Newzbin] website for the period between 19 December 2009 and 18 May 2010, when the website closed," Mr Justice Barling said. "Harris masterminded and directed all the actions of [Newzbin Limited] throughout that period, including those actions which were found to constitute infringing conduct. If ever there was a clear case of a company director 'intending, procuring and sharing a common design' to commit an infringement with the company, and 'making it his own', then this is it."

The judge added: "I conclude that Harris is similarly liable to [the film studios] for the infringements of their copyrights which arose from his operation of the [Newzbin2] website throughout the period from 28 May 2010 to 28 November 2012. In this regard Harris was either the sole [person responsible for the wrongful act], or, to the extent that his associates were sufficiently involved in the infringing activity, Harris was also [jointly] liable."

Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros and Disney were among six major film studios to have brought the action against Harris on behalf of themselves and other members of the Motion Picture Association (MPA).

The film studios had claimed that Harris was the "driving force behind mass deliberate infringements of [their] copyrights" and that five businesses they were also suing were owned or controlled by Harris. They said Harris used the businesses to channel money generated from the copyright infringing activities to himself and syphon off funds from his Newzbin business to thwart their efforts to recover costs and compensation for Newzbin's own copyright infringement.

Harris had rejected the claims. In particular he argued that the original Newzbin site was not set up with the intention of infringing copyright and that he did not believe infringing activity had been taking place on the site until the High Court ruled it had in 2010.

He said all reasonable steps had been taken to adhere to the High Court's 2010 order and denied having anything to do with setting up or running the Newzbin2 website which emerged after the original Newzbin site was shut down. He further claimed the Newzbin2 website was being operated by a Swedish man who he had leased domain name rights to.

However, the judge rejected Harris' defence.

"Despite Harris's denials, the evidence that he was the driving force behind the setting up and operation of the N2 website is overwhelming, and it is clear that the suggestion of theft of [Newzbin Limited's] software and of Swedish nationals running the [Newzbin2] website is a fairytale," Mr Justice Barling said.

The film studios had submitted evidence to the court from 'chat logs' which they claimed showed Harris was behind the Newzbin sites and knew about the infringing activity conducted on them. Harris refuted the accuracy of the logs but Mr Justice Barling said they were "a true record" of what Harris and his associates had discussed.

"[The chat logs] show beyond doubt that, far from abandoning the infringing activities carried on via the [original Newzbin] website, Harris was carefully laying the ground so that after the [original Newzbin website] action and anticipated winding up of [Newzbin Limited], the infringing activities in question would continue more or less seamlessly well into the future, by means of servers based outside the jurisdiction, and with Harris running the operation," Mr Justice Barling said.

Copyright © 2014, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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