The thorny issue of how to deal with the online piracy phenomenon used to be focused on punishing site users. Over time, enforcement action progressed to the services themselves, until they became both too resilient and prevalent to tackle effectively.
In Europe in particular, there’s now a trend of isolating torrent, streaming, and hosting platforms from their users. This is mainly achieved by website blocking carried out by local ISPs following an appropriate court order.
While the UK is perhaps best known for this kind of action, Belgium was one of the early pioneers of the practice.
After filing a lawsuit in 2010, the Belgian Anti-Piracy Foundation (BAF) weathered an early defeat at the Antwerp Commercial Court to achieve success at the Court of Appeal. Since then, local ISPs have been forced to block The Pirate Bay.
Since then there have been several efforts (1,2) to block more sites but rightsholders have complained that the process is too costly, lengthy, and cumbersome. Now the government is stepping in to do something about it.
Local media reports that Deputy Prime Minister Kris Peeters has drafted new proposals to tackle online piracy. In his role as Minister of Economy and Employment, Peeters sees authorities urgently tackling pirate sites with a range of new measures.
For starters, he wants to create a new department, formed within the FPS Economy, to oversee the fight against online infringement. The department would be tasked with detecting pirate sites more quickly and rendering them inaccessible in Belgium, along with any associated mirror sites or proxies.
Peeters wants the new department to add all blocked sites to a national ‘pirate blacklist. Interestingly, when Internet users try to access any of these sites, he wants them to be automatically diverted to legal sites where a fee will have to be paid for content.
While it’s not unusual to try and direct users away from pirate sites, for the most part Internet service providers have been somewhat reluctant to divert subscribers to commercial sites. Their assistance would be needed in this respect, so it will be interesting to see how negotiations pan out.
The Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA), which was formed nine years ago to represent the music, video, software and videogame industries, welcomed Peeters’ plans.
“It’s so important to close the doors to illegal download sites and to actively lead people to legal alternatives,” said chairman Olivier Maeterlinck.
“Surfers should not forget that the motives of illegal download sites are not always obvious. These sites also regularly try to exploit personal data.”
The current narrative that pirate sites are evil places is clearly gaining momentum among anti-piracy bodies, but there’s little sign that the public intends to boycott sites as a result. With that in mind, alternative legal action will still be required.
With that in mind, Peeters wants to streamline the system so that all piracy cases go through a single court, the Commercial Court of Brussels. This should reduce costs versus the existing model and there’s also the potential for more consistent rulings.
“It’s a good idea to have a clearer legal framework on this,” says Maeterlinck from BEA.
“There are plenty of legal platforms, streaming services like Spotify, for example, which are constantly developing and reaching an ever-increasing audience. Those businesses have a business model that ensure that the creators of certain media content are properly compensated. The rotten apples must be tackled, and those procedures should be less time-consuming.”
There’s little doubt that BEA could benefit from a little government assistance. Back in February, the group filed a lawsuit at the French commercial court in Brussels, asking ISPs to block subscriber access to several ‘pirate’ sites.
“Our action aims to block nine of the most popular streaming sites which offer copyright-protected content on a massive scale and without authorization,” Maeterlinck told TF at the time.
“In accordance with the principles established by the CJEU (UPC Telekabel and GS Media), BEA seeks a court order confirming the infringement and imposing site blocking measures on the ISPs, who are content providers as well.”