Broadcaster Wins Streaming Piracy Blocking Case in Australia

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Hong Kong broadcaster Television Broadcasts has won its site-blocking case in Australia. As a result, ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries must block access to 25 "online locations" connected to seven unauthorized Android-based streaming services. The blocks must be in place within 15 days.

Last year, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) applied for a blocking injunction in Australia against several unauthorized IPTV services.

Under the Copyright Act, the broadcaster asked the Federal Court to order ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries to block access to seven Android-based services named as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.

TVB’s application was unusual in that it not only required ISPs to block URLs, domains and IP addresses related to the technical operation of the services, but also hosting platforms akin to Google Play and Apple’s App Store that host the app.

Back in May, due to the relative complexity of the application, Justice Nicholas reserved his decision, telling TVB that his ruling could take a couple of months after receiving his “close attention.”

In a ruling handed down by the Federal Court yesterday, TVB discovered it had been worth the wait.

Justice Nicholas notes in his judgment that the primary purpose of the illicit streaming set-top boxes is to facilitate the infringement of copyright by making such material available in Australia without permission from copyright owners. He also notes, however, that many people using these devices did not know they are infringing copyright.

“Be that as it may, I regard as flagrant the copyright infringements of the persons who have made the TVB broadcasts available online, including those persons responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the target online locations that make it possible for users of the streaming devices to view the TVB broadcasts either in close to real time or at some later time using the VOD service,” the Judge writes.

In an earlier hearing, TVB was confronted with the fact that some of the content it broadcasts has uncertain copyright status in Australia. While Hong Kong is a member of the World Trade Organization, it is not a party to the 1961 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations.

The Judge says that considering the low volume of that content, blocking would not be an issue.

“I accept that access to some of content that was originally broadcast (ie. which was not pre-recorded) in which copyright does not subsist may also be blocked, but my strong impression from the evidence is that this is likely to constitute a relatively small proportion of the total content the subject of TVB’s television broadcasts in Hong Kong,” he notes.

“This is not a case, in my view, where blocking orders, if made, will significantly curtail non-infringing use of the streaming devices.”

The Judge adds that other than blocking, TVB has no other practical remedies available to curtail infringement of its rights. This is due to the likelihood that the operators of the service are “almost certainly” based overseas and “impossible” to track down.

“Obtaining any form of effective injunctive relief against them in Australia is not a realistic option,” Justice Nicholas adds.

ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus and TPG now have 15 days to block the “online locations” supplying content and services to the infringing set-top boxes in Australia. Meanwhile, TVB continues its battle against pirates.

“Actions are being taken by TVB in Singapore and other overseas markets to block piracy websites. We will keep in contact with the Hong Kong government to push similar site-blocking in Hong Kong,” a TVB spokesman said.

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