Orders for ISPs to block sites on copyright infringement grounds used to be rare and controversial. Any imposition of ‘internet police’ duties angered ISPs; blocking wouldn’t end with pirate sites, some warned.
Court Orders ISPs to Block Uptobox
The launch of regulator ARCOM in early 2022 allowed France to block pirate sites on an industrial scale, and it wasted no time in doing so. Self-reported results hailed site-blocking measures as extremely effective and therefore totally justified.
ISPs now partner with rightsholders to ensure blocking goes smoothly, meaning the friction and fears of the past remain there. We’re informed that ISPs blocked 1,299 domain names under this system in 2022 but in common with the websites themselves, their names aren’t for public consumption.
Court processes leading to blocking are more open, a recent case against Z-Library, for example. Thanks to a report by French journalist Marc Rees this week, customers of local ISP Orange discovered why popular file-hosting site Uptobox was no longer accessible.
Movie Industry Targets Uptobox
According to SimilarWeb data, last month Uptobox received 10 million visits from French users. Give or take, that accounts for roughly a third of its 34 million visits in April. The site has been around since 2011 and gained popularity by making it easy for users to upload, store, and share files with others.
Uptobox has no search feature on the site but there’s no denying its popularity among pirates. There’s no money to be earned directly but users can earn points according to the popularity of their files. When they have accumulated enough, points can be exchanged for access to premium features, such as derestricted access to the site’s comprehensive API.
Almost inevitably, Uptobox became a candidate for blocking. On behalf of industry groups including National Federation of Film Distributors (FNEF) and several others, an investigation conducted by local anti-piracy group ALPA found 25,500 active download links on Uptobox, the majority offering unauthorized access to protected audiovisual works.
Access to that content was reportedly provided by “no less” than 113 third-party indexing sites, including Filmoflix, FilmGratuit, Wawacity and Zone-Téléchargement. All of these sites had previously been deemed infringing by the Tribunal de Paris, and responses to takedown notices issued by ALPA were described as “neither credible nor effective.”
Another Judgment, More Blocking
On March 29, 2023, five major ISPs – Orange, Bouygues Télécom, Free, SFR and SFR Fiber – were informed of the blocking application. The court handed down a judgment in favor of the movie groups on May 11 and Orange became the first ISP to implement the blocks, linforme reports.
The four remaining ISPs are expected to implement similar blocking in the coming days and maintain it for 18 months. Any costs incurred while blocking the domains listed below are not recoverable from the movie companies.
Whether the blocking order can be modified to include additional domains isn’t yet clear. Dynamic injunctions are becoming more common as rightsholders adapt to blocking countermeasures, so it’s highly likely rightsholders will seek to include additional domains. Blocking these six domains alone won’t hinder the site at all since DNS blocking is defeated in seconds.
Blocking Never Goes Wrong, Mostly
ARCOM’s blocking decisions are not for public consumption, so broader oversight and general accountability remain lacking. That has some people worried, especially after events reported last weekend.
According to a Le Monde report, Telegram’s ‘t.me’ domain was suddenly rendered inaccessible on Saturday after most ISPs in France were issued with blocking instructions.
The exact circumstances remain unclear but it appears that instead of requesting a block against a specific URL (https://t.me/specific-content-here), “human error” led to the blocking of t.me and everything behind it. As a result, all of Telegram remained inaccessible for several hours until the error was rectified.
A technical analysis of the blocking mechanism reveals that the aim of the blocking was to prevent serious crime. Due to the blunder, visitors who attempted to visit t.me were diverted to a government website which recorded their visit and linked it the crime in question.