Earlier this year, Germany’s largest Internet providers agreed to voluntarily block pirate sites as part of a deal they struck with copyright holders.
These blockades, which are put in place following a thorough vetting process, are generally implemented on the DNS level. This is a relatively easy option, as all ISPs have their own DNS resolvers.
DNS blocking is also easy to circumvent, however. Instead of using the ISPs’ DNS resolvers, subscribers can switch to alternatives such as Cloudflare, Google, OpenDNS, and Quad9. This relatively simple change will render the ISPs’ blocking efforts useless.
This workaround is widely known, also by copyright holders. As such, it may not be a surprise that a few weeks after the German blocking agreement was reached, Sony Music obtained an injunction that requires DNS-resolver Quad9 to block a popular pirate site.
A blocking order against a DNS resolver is quite unusual and the Swiss-based non-profit organization Quad9 swiftly announced that it would appeal the verdict. The foundation stressed that it doesn’t condone piracy but believes that enforcing blocking measures through third-party intermediaries is a step too far.
Court Upholds Site Blocking Order
Quad9 repeated these and other arguments at the Regional Court in Hamburg, asking it to overturn the injunction. After reviewing the input from both sides, the Court chose to uphold the site-blocking requirements.
The name of the targeted site remains redacted but the legal paperwork mentions that the unnamed site links to pirated music. We previously deduced that Canna.to is the likely target, as that site was already part of the ISPs’ voluntary blocking agreement when the proceeding was initiated.
Having lost its first appeal, Quad9 notes that it will continue to block the site, as required by the injunction. The non-profit is disappointed with the Court’s decision but announced that it will continue its appeal at a higher court.
Quad9 Won’t Give Up
“We’re disappointed that this first set of hearings ended in what we think is an outcome that is not consistent with the legislative intentions of the German government,” Quad’s General Manager John Todd says.
“There are a large number of Internet-based services which we think ultimately are put at serious risk by this ruling, and we will not stop our legal challenges on this injunction.”
Quad9 says that it will continue to appeal, not just on behalf of its own organization, but also to defend the rights of its users and other people and organizations who may be impacted by these types of orders going forward.
“[We] will continue to pursue our legal fight against what we think is an outcome that threatens the very core of the Internet’s ability to be a useful and trusted tool for everyone. Corporations should not have the ability to directly demand that network infrastructure operators censor sites,” Todd notes.
The DNS resolver is backed by several other groups and organizations including the German Association of the Internet Industry (eco), Stiftung Mercator Schweiz, and the German Society for Freedom Rights (GFF).
GFF project coordinator Julia Reda, who previously served as a Member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party, notes that German lawmakers previously abolished the “interferer liability” concept for Internet access providers. With this in mind, the blocking order appears to be a step in the wrong direction.
“Exposing the operators of recursive DNS resolvers to legal risks erodes the legal safeguards the lawmakers intended to establish,” Reda says.
In this case, Quad9 isn’t being held directly liable for any piracy activities. However, the organization is required to take action to prevent potential future infringements by preventing users from resolving the music piracy site.
Quad9 welcomes the support of GFF and the other organizations. It’s also happy with the backing from the general public. Heise previously reported that donations increased by 900% after the blocking order was announced earlier this year.
The DNS resolver notes that these financial contributions are still much needed to cover the financial costs of the legal battle. It encourages people who have the means to continue their support for the site-blocking appeal.