Every single day, tens of millions of netizens access copyrighted material for free via thousands of file-sharing sites. Unable to shut them down, copyright holders are trying another approach.
Rightsholder blocking of websites has become a hot-topic in Europe, with the music and movie industries going flat-out in multiple regions to create favorable legal climates for what they see as a legitimate strategy to protect their investments.
The blocking bogeyman is The Pirate Bay, a site that refuses to comply with even a single copyright takedown. This militant stance has given the record labels and Hollywood everything they need to approach the courts with their plight and receive a very sympathetic hearing. And the signs are that’s exactly what they’re getting.
A High Court order to have The Pirate Bay blocked was issued last year and was followed by another against KickassTorrents, H33T and Fenopy in February 2013. Just this week, the record labels in Ireland posted a big win when the High Court there granted a similar injunction against The Pirate Bay after the law was tweaked last year.
Buoyed by these successes the labels are readying more blocks. Last evening the Irish Recorded Music Association confirmed it will target a further 20 sites in an effort to stop infringement of their copyrights.
“We will be back in court very shortly to take out five to 10 other sites,” said IRMA director general, Dick Doyle.
“We have already selected a total of 20 of the worst offender sites and we will go after the next five in the very near future.”
As revealed here on TorrentFreak in May, the BPI are also planning another wave of web blockades in the UK. It would not be unreasonable to presume that the list will be very similar to the one being compiled by their Irish counterparts.
And, with the groundwork now laid, it appears that the record labels are on the road to perfecting a process that may soon become somewhat of a formality.
The High Court process is now laid out. The ISPs do not contest the labels’ applications to have sites blocked and the sites themselves are not given the express opportunity to defend themselves. This is perhaps moot, since none are expected to do so.
Furthermore, no formal hearing is required, with the judge dealing with applications based on the facts as presented by the labels. The labels’ case is that the sites make every effort to provide an infringing service with the layout and categorization of their torrents, coupled with their lax attitudes to takedown requests. Merely providing torrents is not enough to fail the ‘pirate’ test.
“Infringement was not merely an inevitable consequence of the provision of torrents on the site, but their objective and intention,” explains Darren Meale, senior associate at the Dentons lawfirm.
“Mass copyright infringement was the ‘cornerstone’ of the sites’ business models; each site showed an obvious disregard for copyright law; and each had sought to evade international investigations by constantly changing domain registrant details and moving ISPs,” comments Meale on the reasoning of the judge.
On this basis it is accepted by the court that the users of this type of torrent site are infringing the copyrights of the labels and since the sites themselves are facilitating and authorizing those infringements, they too are guilty of copyright infringement.
Add to that the sites’ relevance to the UK market (such as a large number of local visitors and UK targeted advertising) plus ISP knowledge that infringement is being carried out by their subscribers, and the court appears happy to sign off on the blockades.
Meale, who has written extensively on the blockades, believes that the content industries have become adept at dealing with the legalities, using streamlined processes that reduce costs and save time, and that will serve them well in the future.
“The evidence put in by the record industry will also be similar each time and therefore cheaper on each occasion. That points to s97A applications becoming fairly fixed in terms of time and cost and so much easier for the industry to fund and to evaluate their effectiveness by way of a cost/benefit analysis,” Meale concludes.
Rest assured, the recording and movie industries haven’t come all this way to stop now. In bite-sized chunks over the next 12 months they will seek to have all of the top 20 file-sharing sites blocked at the ISP level.
And, with proxy sites now automatically blocked after the fact, that might only be the beginning.