After the Premier League obtained a 2017 blocking order compelling ISPs including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to block unauthorized soccer streams under Section 97a of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, an early template was available for other live content owners to follow.
Sure enough, around 18 months later, Matchroom – the owner, manager, and promoter of various sporting events – joined in on the action, going to the High Court in an effort to prevent boxing fans from viewing the 2018 bout between Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin via illegal online streams.
Bell Sounds on Existing Order, New Round Begins
The order handed down by the High Court in Matchroom’s favor was extended and modified by a sealed order on May 22, 2019. It required ISPs Sky, BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, EE and Plusnet to block the IP addresses of pirate servers in much the same way as the orders previously obtained by the Premier League had pioneered. However, it also had a so-called “sunset clause” which meant it ceased to have effect on October 1, 2020.
Anticipating the bell, Matchroom filed a new application on September 28, 2020, which reached Justice Birss in the High Court in the week of October 12, 2020. Given that Matchroom had a boxing event scheduled for October 17, the promotion requested a two-year extension which would expire on October 1, 2022.
None of the named ISPs objected to the application and Sky actually filed evidence in support of it, as it had done previously with similar Premier League blocking orders.
However, the Judge wasn’t prepared to grant an extension and instead treated it as a brand new application, broadly along the lines of the secret website blocking system deployed by the Premier League that gained court approval back in July 2020.
Judge Was Satisfied With Expert Opinions on Blocking
In considering the Matchroom application, Judge Birss noted that Robert Kiessling, Head of Cloud Engineering at Sky, reported that “blocking has worked smoothly in practice” and has not resulted in the “blocking of access to any legitimate content”. This latter claim was made on the basis that no customer made any complaints to Sky about restricted access to legal content.
Interestingly, Sky also presented ISP traffic map evidence to show that blocking made a “significant contribution to reducing unauthorized streams of Matchroom Content transmitted to customers using Sky’s broadband network.” This appears to add yet more weight to the theory that Sky does indeed appear to be watching its customers’ piracy consumption habits.
Temporary Blocking Order Handed Down October 15, 2020
Given the urgency, Judge Birss handed down an order to help protect the event scheduled for October 17 but he wasn’t prepared to hand down a two-year order without a more careful examination. The temporary order timed out on October 30, the day before the Oleksandr Usyk vs Derek Chisora fight at Wembley on Halloween.
During a hearing on October 23 to consider the new application, the Judge informed counsel for the applicants that he was satisfied that an order along the lines of the one sought could be handed down. However, there was also the matter of which parts of the order should remain confidential, to prevent interested third-parties from attempting to circumvent its measures.
The Judge determined that the list of target IP addresses belonging to ‘pirate’ servers should not be made public. Furthermore, after initially believing that there would be no harm in publishing a broad outline of the “detection conditions and requirements which an IP address must satisfy in order for that IP address to be notified so that it will be blocked”, he later changed his mind. Disclosure “bears a tangible risk” of undermining blocking and assisting infringers, he argued.
New Blocking Order Handed Down to Expire October 1, 2022
The new order allows for Matchroom and its agents to block IP addresses when they are being used to transmit Matchroom footage during events or during a “pre-monitoring period” immediately preceding those events.
Affected hosting providers must be sent a notice explaining that their IP addresses have been blocked due to a court order and given the opportunity to discharge or vary that order. If any website, video streaming service, or ISP customers are adversely affected by the order, they too have the same rights to complain.
Since the order was handed down by the High Court before being published this week, the bout between Oleksandr Usyk v Derek Chisora on October 31 was already covered by the order. The upcoming rematch between Alexander Povetkin and Dillian Whyte scheduled for November 21, 2020, will be the next test for the new and improved court-sanctioned blocking efforts but coverage will continue for additional bouts beyond that.
ISP Blocking System Names Revealed
Finally, a note about the systems being deployed by the various ISPs involved in the blocking action.
According to the High Court order, BT and Plusnet are currently using systems known as Hawking/Cleanfeed. EE deploys a blocking system known as Wolf, Sky’s system is called Hawkeye, Virgin has Web Blocker 3, and TalkTalk’s system has no specific name beyond IP ‘blackholing’.
The High Court order can be found here