In recent years, website blocking has become one of the most widely-used anti-piracy enforcement mechanisms in the world.
ISPs in several dozen countries prevent subscribers from accessing a variety of ‘pirate’ sites, either through court processes or as part of government-backed administrative blocking regimes.
Europe has been at the forefront of this blocking wave. The first case was launched in Denmark and dates back to 2006. In the years since, similar measures were taken in other EU countries, with the ultimate approval of the European Union’s highest court.
Research on the effectiveness of site-blocking interventions is scarce but the overall indication is that while the measures are far from perfect, they’re effective nonetheless. They are particularly effective at stopping casual pirates when multiple sites are blocked simultaneously.
European Commission Flags Foreign Countries
The European Commission is also convinced that this enforcement tool can make a difference. A few days ago, the EU governing body released its biennial report on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in third countries, in which site blocking is repeatedly mentioned.
The report is the EU’s equivalent of the US Trade Representative’s “Special 301” review. Its main aim is to identify ‘priority’ countries with lacking copyright and trademark protections, hoping to elicit improvements in the years to come.
In addition to counterfeiting, piracy remains one of the key problems in the targeted countries. While some progress has been made in recent years, more can be done.
“Copyright piracy […] remains a major issue for European creative sectors. The problem remains widespread and rampant in countries such as China, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as Brazil despite the positive developments set out in this report,” the report reads.
The report lists thirteen countries in total, with China singled out as the highest priority concern.
Priority 1: China
Priority 2: India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine
Priority 3: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Thailand
Perhaps unsurprisingly, China doesn’t appear to have any trouble blocking citizens’ access to websites but in statements about several other countries, blocking measures are regularly mentioned.
‘Site Blocking Would be Useful’
In Vietnam, a country called out by the U.S. recently for its lacking piracy response, online copyright infringement remains a major concern. To combat this problem, site blocking would be useful, the EU suggests.
“Enforcement, both as regards online and physical marketplaces, remains of the highest concern. EU stakeholders raise ineffective copyright enforcement as one of the main concerns, in particular in the online environment, including as regards site-blocking,” the report reads.
Argentina continues to struggle with piracy as well. Piracy has increased in recent times, the EU explains, in part due to a lack of awareness of the negative impact piracy has on the economy and society. The country does allow blocking injunctions, including dynamic ones, but rightsholders say that more can be done.
“Some stakeholders refer to the lack of effective measures at administrative or criminal level to block infringing sites and report that injunctions against intermediaries are not easily available,” the EU Commission report reads.
There are also countries that have made significant progress on the blocking front in recent years. The Indonesian Government, for example, has ordered local Internet providers to block more than 3,500 problematic domain names.
‘Please Address Domain Hopping’
Increased blocking in Indonesia is viewed as a positive development but the EU believes that the country should be wary of sites that continue to offer pirated content by simply ‘hopping’ to new domain names. In many EU countries this problem is tackled with regular updates to existing blocking orders.
“Effective remedies and closing existing gaps in protection are needed to combat online infringements [in Indonesia]. This in particular concerns site-blocking injunctions and measures to prevent ‘domainhopping’,” the report reads.
These anti-piracy achievements haven’t gone unnoticed by rightsholders and the EU Commission. While many copyright related challenges remain, India passes the blocking requirements with flying colors.
“IPR enforcement remains a source of serious concern. EU stakeholders report improvements on judicial enforcement in the last two years, particularly blocking piracy sites,” the report reads.
No U.S. Mention
Overall, the European Commission report gives the impression that pirate site blocking is a globally accepted standard. Countries that fail to facilitate this type of enforcement are urged to make progress, a view also shared by many major rightsholders.
Interestingly, however, the EU report doesn’t mention the United States in this regard. While U.S. rightsholders obtain site blocking orders throughout the world, these types of no-fault blocking measures are unavailable on home turf, where online piracy volumes are largest globally.
The omission isn’t problematic enough to warrant a ‘priority’ listing in the EU report. That’s not entirely unexpected, as the U.S. generally has excellent copyright enforcement and policies, but it stands out nonetheless.
In recent years there have been calls to make site blocking measures available in the U.S. but, thus far, this hasn’t resulted in concrete action.
All in all, the European Commission’s report has a lot of overlap with the U.S. equivalent, which was published a few weeks ago. That said, one notable difference is that the latter doesn’t include a single mention of site blocking.
A copy of the European Commission’s Report on the Protection and Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in third countries is available here (pdf)