Free F1 Streaming Sites Latest Targets in French Piracy Blocking Campaign

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Following in the footsteps of football leagues and boxing promotions, Canal+ has obtained a court order compelling local ISPs to block dozens of sites accused of illegally streaming Formula 1 events. The order is the latest in a long line of anti-piracy actions in France, where fledgling regulatory body Arcom has added hundreds of domains to the country's official blacklist in just a few months.

canal+ logoFaced with the impossibility of filing lawsuits against every single site offering content without a license, rightsholders all over the world are now fully invested in site blocking.

Whether the process begins with a court injunction or utilizes an administrative framework (or both), rightsholders are causing hundreds of sites and associated domains to be blocked by ISPs every month. Those seeking a clear and panoramic view of the scale of site blocking measures will find an opaque system, one that seems designed to limit how much information is made available to the public.

That being said, actions that begin in court can shine some light on who is obtaining blocking orders. In France, premium TV company Canal+ has reentered the fray with what appears to be the first injunction designed to reduce piracy of Formula 1.

High Court in Paris Says ‘Oui’

New legislation in France allows rightsholders to enter an accelerated legal process that authorizes “proportionate measures” to prevent online infringement. In January, sports broadcaster beIN became the first company to obtain a blocking order protecting football rights.

Ongoing blocking now supports beIN, football league UEFA, and local broadcaster Canal+, with the latter now expanding its campaign to underpin the company’s new contract with Formula 1.

Lequipe reports that the Tribunal Judiciaire de Paris has granted a Canal+ application to render inaccessible 39 pirate sites offering unlicensed Formula 1 streams. The order covers four major French ISPs – Bouygues, Orange, Free, and SFR.

The order won by Canal+ is ‘dynamic’, meaning that when pirates take countermeasures with new domains, mirror sites or proxies, the Arcom regulator has the power to add new domains to the list and compel the ISPs to block them. In a sign of how quickly these updates can take place, the original order to block 39 domains has already expanded to 59 domains and probably won’t stop there.

Local reports indicate that the ISP blocks are DNS-based, meaning that internet users who switch to third-party DNS providers (such as Google or Cloudflare) are unaffected by the blockades. Whether the authorities will seek to close this loophole remains to be seen but at least for now, blocking is moving full steam ahead in France.

Hundreds of Domains Blocked Since January

During a press conference in April, Arcom announced that since its inception in January, 250 sports piracy sites had been blocked, together representing more than 60% of the country’s ‘pirate’ sports audience. By mid-May, the number of pirate sites blocked had swelled to around 400, a figure that includes sites blocked by court order and any additional sites reappearing to circumvent blocking.

Arcom says that at least 1,200 additional pirate sites have also been blocked by French ISPs resulting in dramatic falls in piracy, including a reported 77% decline in piracy of the Champions League competition.

Whether any of this activity will translate to consumers spending more on legitimate services remains to be seen but that’s unlikely to be a prominent feature in anti-piracy reports, at least on the same slides. Graphs tend to show how effective blocking is at preventing users from visiting blocked domains, not how effective they are at converting former pirates to paying customers.

In that respect, France also has additional problems of its own making that seem to fuel piracy, rather than discourage it.


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