Six major ISPs – BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – control more than 90% of the fixed line broadband market in the UK. This means that when copyright holders want to prevent access to pirate sites in the region, these providers are regularly named in blocking injunction applications.
Late Friday, the High Court reported that Columbia Pictures, Disney Enterprises, Netflix Studios, Paramount Pictures, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment made submissions in a new application earlier this month, requesting an order for the ISPs listed above to block five pirate streaming portals in the UK.
Tinyzonetv.to – The Largest Platform
The most popular domain in traffic terms is tinyzonetv.to. The platform currently enjoys around 16.5 million visits per month according to SimilarWeb stats, with around 13.5% from the United States and 13% from the UK.
The site claims to have 250,000 videos in its movie and TV show database supported by subtitles in English and Spanish. These include new titles such as Dune and Halloween Kills.
In common with many other sites that eventually find themselves exposed to legal action, tinyzonetv.to was targeted in a DMCA subpoena application filed by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) in the United States earlier this year.
That successful application required CDN provider to hand over the personal details of the site operator but whether that translated into useful information for the anti-piracy groups is unclear.
Watchserieshd.tv – 10 Million Visits Per Month
Watchserieshd.tv is another popular domain that in April was pulling in around 14 million visitors per month. Traffic recently dropped to around 9.7 million but with an extensive library of movies, TV shows and anime content on offer, it is still popular in the UK, which accounts for an estimated 18% of its traffic.
The first public signs that the MPA had taken an interest in watchserieshd.tv appeared in September 2020 when MPA/ACE obtained a DMCA subpoena at a California district court. That required Cloudflare to give up the personal details of the site’s operator, which is often necessary for enforcement action.
This May the anti-piracy groups obtained another subpoena which again listed the watchserieshd.tv domain, perhaps suggesting that the original subpoena didn’t result in useful information.
Levidia.ch Replaces Levidia.to
The next popular in traffic terms is levidia.ch. This domain only started getting significant traffic in June 2021 and now enjoys around 4.5 million visits per month. This doesn’t appear to be a new site, however.
Around the time the domain started to gain traction, another similar domain – levidia.to – started losing traffic, suggesting the .ch domain acted as a replacement for its predecessor. Indeed, levidia.ch displays the .to domain on its homepage.
MPA/ACE interest in levidia.to became apparent in November 2020 when they obtained a DMCA subpoena which required the Tonic domain registry to hand over the personal details of the domain’s registrant. Whether that action forced the owner to ditch the domain isn’t clear but lividia.to isn’t currently in operation.
123movies.online/123moviesfun.ch and Europixhd.net
123movies.online and 123moviesfun.ch link to the same site, now operating purely from the .online domain. It appears to enjoy around a million visits per month, with 30% from the United States. The UK’s share is around 16% but that is up 30% in recent weeks so preventing that from accelerating ahead will be a key goal of the MPA.
Europixhd.net is the final entry in the injunction. The site was pretty popular back in April with around 2.3 million visits per month but more recently visitor numbers are down to around 750,000. Roughly 18% of the site’s traffic is from the United States with around 6.5% coming from the UK, a figure that continues to fall.
Europix branded domains were targeted in an earlier blocking order in Australia but it’s not clear whether these share the same operator.
Considerations of the High Court
Given that the MPA has massive experience when it comes to obtaining blocking injunctions in the UK, it’s no surprise that the High Court went ahead and granted its application in this case. That being said, no details were taken for granted by the Judge.
Mrs Justice Falk agreed with the movie industry group’s claims that the sites are illegal, noting that none of the sites actually host any content but present it to the public via links to third-party sites. According to the order, this does not detract from the case, since all of the sites knowingly facilitate access to copyright-infringing content via communications to a “new public”.
All of the sites are operated on a for-profit basis, so this falls foul of existing rulings too.
“In my view the Target Websites do authorize infringing acts of copying by users, and indeed positively encourage and facilitate it. The fact of extensive copying by users can be inferred from the quantity of material indexed on the Target Websites, their purpose of making the content available and the extent of traffic to the sites,” the order reads.
“As to authorization, the nature of the relationship is the provision by the Target Websites of a user-friendly environment to locate and access content. The sites provide the means to infringe, and infringement by copying is an inevitable consequence of accessing the material. The Target Websites have the means to control access but have taken no steps to prevent infringement. The activities amount to the purported grant of the right to do the acts complained of.”
Complications With Sites’ Use of Cloudflare
The order notes that all of the sites in the injunction are operated outside the Court’s jurisdiction utilizing Cloudflare’s delivery platform. Since blocking injunctions tend to target domains and IP addresses, this could cause issues for other sites using the same Cloudflare IP addresses. This issue is addressed by the Court as follows:
“The Target Websites are all operated outside the jurisdiction. The majority are hosted via CloudFlare’s delivery platform. Where that is the case it is not possible to determine definitively whether or not other sites are also hosted on the same server,” the order notes.
“The applicants have confirmed that, following the grant of the order, they will notify the Target Websites to CloudFlare and request that they be allocated to dedicated IP addresses. This approach has been taken in respect of sites blocked pursuant to existing orders under section 97A, and is intended to ensure that only material on the Target Websites is blocked.”
The order can be found here