Estonian Government Eyes a Pirate Site Blocking Regime

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Estonia is the latest European country to consider implementing a pirate site blocking regime. The government has asked stakeholders for input on a copyright law amendment that would empower a local consumer protection watchdog to block copyright-infringing websites. Digital rights activists fear further normalization of Internet censorship.

Page BlockedIn recent years, website blocking has become one of the most widely-used anti-piracy enforcement mechanisms in the world.

ISPs in more than forty countries prevent subscribers from accessing a variety of ‘pirate’ sites, in response to a court order or through a regulatory regime.

Estonia Explores Site Blocking

European countries have been particularly receptive to these measures with Estonia now considering a similar framework. The Ministry of Justice has presented an initiative that would empower Estonia’s Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority (TTJA) to order pirate site-blocking measures.

These orders would require local Internet providers to block certain websites to deter piracy. While there is no fully drafted bill yet, stakeholders including rightsholders, media organizations, and digital rights advocates, are being asked to share their positions.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the current situation leads to elevated piracy levels. A recent EU report highlighted Estonia as the country with the highest number of visits to pirate sites in Europe.

Lowering Piracy Rates

A high piracy rate affects rightsholder revenues so the introduction of a site-blocking regime should help to address this problem, the logic goes.

“The purpose of the possible amendment to the law is to ensure modern and effective protection of copyright and related rights,” the initiative reads, adding that DNS and IP-based blocking allows ISPs to block foreign pirate sites too.

“[T]he Consumer Protection and Technical Supervision Authority (TTJA) must be empowered to issue injunctions to internet service providers to block access to the infringing sites in Estonia.”

Before the issuance of an injunction, site operators would be given a few days to appeal. Should none arrive, Internet providers would be ordered to implement the blocking measures or face a penalty.

Internet Society Pushes Back

While most rightsholders will be pleased with the proposal, the Estonian Internet Society believes that the proposal goes too far. The digital rights group has noticed a trend of increased ‘censorship’ in the country and sees this proposal as the next step.

Board member Märt Põder previously told ERR that it’s unclear whether these measures will have any effect. After previously blocking Russian propaganda, targeting pirate sites is a “baffling and unacceptable escalation.”

Speaking with TorrentFreak, Põder says the blocking proposal raises both technical and legal challenges.

“An attempt to introduce another blocklist in the footsteps of special cooperation for blocking war propaganda is almost sociopathic and dangerous to Internet freedom, also because a plan to use more invasive IP blocking in addition to DNS blocking is on the agenda.”

Blocking & VPNs

The Ministry of Justice cites Estonia’s high piracy rates as a key motivation. However, Põder notes that these data are flawed because blocking regimes motivate people to hide their locations through VPNs, which results in biased statistics.

“The motivation refers to Estonia being on the top of EU piracy statistics, but this is arguably also because Estonia has also very low use of VPNs, which means people do not need to hide their Internet usage,” Põder says.

The Internet Society will share these and other concerns with the government, which will start reviewing all stakeholder responses after the deadline next month. That will ultimately determine whether the plan will move forward or not.

In recent years the Estonian Internet Society has fiercely protested any blocking efforts in the country. At the moment, only online casinos are formally banned, but age-related porn blocks are also on the agenda, and now pirate site blocking is too.

“This initiative of the Ministry of Justice comes as a complete surprise to netizens in Estonia, and not a good one,” Põder concludes.


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