Two years ago, German Internet providers agreed to voluntarily block the most egregeous pirate sites.
The ISPs teamed up with copyright holders and launched the “Clearing Body for Copyright on the Internet” (CUII), which is in charge of handing down blocking ‘orders’.
While CUII doesn’t rely on court judgments, there is some form of oversight. When copyright holders report a pirate site, a review committee first checks whether the domain is indeed linked to a website that structurally infringes copyrights.
Targeting Structurally Infringing Sites
If a website overwhelmingly hosts or links to pirated material, the site can be nominated for a blocklist entry. This can apply to torrent sites, streaming portals, and direct download hubs, as long as piracy is front and center.
“Only clear cases of copyright infringing websites should be blocked. Examples are thepiratebay.org, kinox.to or goldesel.to,” CUII explains in the FAQ on its website.
In many countries where such measures are implemented, The Pirate Bay was indeed one of the first sites to be targeted. However, despite the explicit mention in CUII’s frequently asked questions, the infamous torrent site hasn’t yet made it onto the German blocklist.
Instead, CUII appears to prioritize websites that are predominantly targeted at local citizens. This isn’t a stated goal, but currently blocked sites such as Kinox.to, S.to, Canna.to, and Serienjunkies all fit the bill.
Filmfans.org and Serienfans.org
Earlier this week, CUII published two new blocking recommendations, Filmfans.org and Serienfans.org. These sites aren’t widely used in most parts of the world but in Germany, they have a sizable audience.
The two websites were nominated by an entertainment company whose name is redacted. The unnamed company is a member of the Motion Picture Association, however, which is a signee to the voluntary agreement.
After reviewing the application, the CUII committee concluded that both Filmfans.org and Serienfans.org can be classified as structurally infringing websites. It further confirmed that the sites are geared towards the German-speaking market.
“The application for a recommendation to block the FILMFANS.ORG website is well-founded. The Website is a structurally copyright infringing website. There is a clear copyright violation. The blocking is reasonable and proportionate,” CUII writes in its recommendation.
Before coming to CUII, the entertainment company tried to contact the operators of the site and their hosting companies, but these efforts didn’t go anywhere. This means that blocking the sites is one of the only viable options left to deal with the problem.
Following CUII’s order, all participating ISPs will block access to the domains. This typically happens through a DNS blockade.
Pirate Sites Were Prepared
While the measures will undoubtedly impact Filmfans.org and Serienfans.org, their inclusion doesn’t come as a surprise. On the contrary, the sites – which are presumably operated by the same team – have anticipated the blockade for more than a year and have advised users to take precautions.
“In Germany, more and more websites are being blocked by the ‘Copyright Clearing House on the Internet. Such a block will sooner or later also affect our pages,” a translated notice on the site reads.
“The DNS blocks can be bypassed easily, legally and free of charge. You have to change your DNS servers in the router, in the operating system, or in the browser. You can find out how this works and more information about the network blocks at cuii-sperre.info.”
The website provides a broad overview of the various blocking workarounds. And to add insult to injury, mockingly copies the design of CUII’s website as well.
Next Target: DNS Resolvers
For most of the websites previously blocked by CUII, it appears that many people do indeed appear to use these workarounds, as they continue to get plenty of German visitors.
Bs.to, for example, has more than 16 million monthly visits, of which 55% come from Germany. This must be one of the main reasons why rightsholders are trying to get DNS resolvers to block pirate sites next.
Sony Music, for example, has already obtained an injunction that requires DNS resolver Quad9 to block the popular pirate site Canna.to and its new canna-power.to domain. This request came shortly after CUII added the site to the blocklist.
Quad9 is determined to put up a fight and eventually reverse the order. However, if it ends up losing, we can expect rightsholders to target other free DNS resolvers too. And perhaps VPN providers are next on the list?