For so many years, Italy developed a reputation for doing little to stop the spread of infringing content online. As a result, pirate sites flourished and millions of citizens decided that paying for content was a thing of the past.
In recent times, things have changed. Italy now has one of the toughest anti-piracy regimes in Europe and regularly launches new actions, often targeting multiple sites in coordinated operations.
This week marks the start of another, with the Special Command Units of the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), a militarized police force under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, acting on the orders of the Public Prosecutor of Rome.
Following the signing of a special decree issued by the Court of Rome, the GdF targeted the domains of 41 websites alleged to be involved in the distribution of first-run movies such as The Magnificent 7, Suicide Squad, and Legend of Tarzan.
Within the batch were many sites streaming live sporting events, such as soccer matches broadcasted by The Premier League, La Ligue 1, Bundesliga, La Liga and Champions League. Those who transmitted motor racing events were also in the frame, after drawing fire from Formula 1 and Moto GP broadcasters.
All domain names will be blocked by local ISPs or potentially seized, if within reach of local authorities.
Authorities report that in common with an operation carried out earlier this month, two anti-piracy strategies were employed, the so-called “follow-the-money” approach (whereby site owners are identified via payments made by advertisers and similar business partners) and the reportedly newer “follow-the-hosting” angle.
Investigating site hosts has been a core anti-piracy strategy for many years so precisely what’s new about this recent effort isn’t clear. However, much is being made of the ability to discover the true location of sites that attempt to hide behind various anonymization techniques available via the cloud.
Whether a true breakthrough has been made is hard to decipher since local authorities have a tendency to be a little dramatic. Nevertheless, there can be no doubts over their commitment.
According to Fulvia Sarzana, a lawyer with the Sarzana and Partners law firm which specializes in Internet and copyright disputes, a total of 290 sites have been targeted by court injunctions in the past four months alone.
Back in November, a landmark action to block more than 150 sites involved in the unauthorized streaming of movies and sports took place following the signing of a mass injunction by a judge in Rome. It was the biggest single blocking action in Italy since measures began in 2008.
Then, in early February, authorities widened their net further still, with a somewhat unusual campaign targeting sites that offered unauthorized digital versions of dozens of national newspapers and magazines including Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair.
With the latest blockades, Italy is now a true front-runner among European site-blocking nations. With many hundreds of domains now the subject of an injunction, the country is now firmly among the top three blocking countries, alongside the UK and Portugal.