Website blocking has become an increasingly common anti-piracy tool. ISPs in dozens of countries have been ordered by courts to block pirate sites.
More recently, these blocking requests have expanded to DNS providers as well. In Germany, for example, a court ordered DNS resolver Quad9 to prevent users from accessing the music piracy site Canna.to.
Court Ordered Cloudflare to Block Torrent Sites
As one of the larger DNS resolvers, Cloudflare is also under fire. In Italy, several music companies, including Sony Music, Warner Music, and Universal, took Cloudflare to court, demanding the blocking of three torrent sites on the company’s freely available 18.104.22.168 resolver.
Last year, an Italian court sided with the music companies. Through an interim order, the court ordered the blocking of kickasstorrents.to, limetorrents.pro, and ilcorsaronero.pro, three domains that are already blocked by ISPs in Italy following an order from local regulator AGCOM.
Cloudflare was unhappy with the court’s decision and immediately protested the injunction. The challenge failed last November when the court upheld its initial ruling, discarding Cloudflare’s objections.
Among other things, the court held that the blocking order doesn’t require the DNS resolver to surveil user activity, as Cloudflare challenged. A general monitoring obligation for online intermediaries would violate EU law, but the court determined that wasn’t relevant in this case.
“Cloudflare’s obligation to intervene to prevent the resolution of names does not derive from a general duty of surveillance but arises with the reporting of the specific illegal activity carried out through the public DNS service,” the court held.
Court Confirms DNS Blocking Requirement
The ruling was a setback for Cloudflare, but that wasn’t its only challenge. The American company filed an additional application where it requested clarification on the technical implementation of the blocking order. According to Cloudflare, blocking measures severely interrupt its DNS service, also in relation to competitors.
In a new ruling last week, the Court of Milan dismissed these arguments as well. According to the court, the original order already confirmed that blocking the site is technically feasible. Any issues regarding the technical efficiency of the measures are outside of the scope of the injunction proceedings.
The Court of Milan further highlighted that Cloudflare already blocks content on its DNS servers. For example, on its DNS resolver for families.
“The evidence on record seems to suggest that the appellant itself sets up general preventive verification systems on the content of the sites it serves, with regard to the monitoring of content unsuitable for minors or for crimes related to pedophilia,” the court noted.
Rightsholders Prepare Follow-Up Requests
The music companies are pleased with the court’s confirmation. According to music industry group IFPI, it sets an important precedent, confirming that online intermediaries, including DNS resolvers, can be required to take anti-piracy measures.
While the present order only applies to three sites, local telecoms regulator AGCOM has already ordered local ISPs to block thousands of piracy-related domains. This means that Cloudflare could also be subjected to follow-up requests.
Enzo Mazza, CEO of Italian music industry group FIMI, informs TorrentFreak that the music industry does indeed have plans to request additional blockades. Not just from Cloudflare, but also from other online intermediaries.
“We will continue our strategy based on blocking orders issued by AGCOM. This will involve new requests to Cloudflare and potentially other similar platforms not complying with the AGCOM blocking orders,” Mazza says.
Cloudflare Vowed to Fight
TorrentFreak reached out to Cloudflare for a comment on the dismissal, but we received no immediate response. The company previously said that it would do everything it could to protest DNS blocking orders, as these could affect other countries as well.
“Because such a block would apply globally to all users of the resolver, regardless of where they are located, it would affect end users outside of the blocking government’s jurisdiction,” Cloudflare noted.
Last September, the company said that it hadn’t blocked content through the 22.214.171.124 Public DNS Resolver yet. Instead, it relies on an “alternative remedy” to comply with the Italian court order.
Following the most recent court order, Cloudflare’s options to appeal against the interim injunctions are exhausted. The company could still file a lawsuit to challenge the merits of the blocking requirements, however.