Alongside the United Kingdom, Italy is the most aggressive country in the world when it comes to blocking websites on copyright infringement grounds.
Over the past several years dozens of domains have been censored locally and a new operation has upped that tally significantly following a complaint from a major broadcaster.
Sky Italia is a digital satellite television platform owned by Sky Plc, the TV company founded by Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox owns a controlling 39% of the shares in Sky Plc and with a turnover of more than £7.6 billion ($11.41 billion) it’s one of the largest media companies in the world.
To protect its bottom line, in 2014 Sky Italia filed a complaint with authorities against more than 120 websites said to broadcast sporting events, concerts, music, plus film and television works without rightsholders’ permission.
A subsequent investigation was coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Rome and entrusted to deputy prosecutors Nello Rossi and Eugenio Albamontes. Assistance was provided by the Special Unit for Broadcasting and Publishing (Nucleo Speciale Radiodiffusione Editoria).
Authorities say that pirate content was offered by the sites in a number of ways but streaming in particular, both of live events and via on-demand. Many provided helpful schedules to assist users with planning.
With all sites operating outside Italian territory, local authorities decided to take action to render them inaccessible in the country. A sweep was ordered by magistrate Gaspare Sturzo and this morning 124 websites are reported blocked via local Internet service providers.
The names of most sites hit in ‘Operation Match Off’ have not been released but authorities have pointed out that ‘sportlemon.tv’ was registered in the name of Gottfrid Svartholm. It seems unlikely that the Pirate Bay founder had any operational connections to the site but the domain was registered by PRQ, his former company in Sweden.
In common with previous cases, advertising is being blamed for the revenue generated by these unauthorized sites. The Guardia di Finanza (GdF), the law enforcement agency responsible for dealing with financial crime and whose Special Command Unit carried out the operation, said site users were met with aggressive ads and click-fraud techniques.
Italy has been working hard to counter the rise of advertising on pirate sites. Last summer a Memorandum of Understanding between the online advertising industry (including Google) and the music and movie industries signaled the creation of a central body to tackle the piracy issue.
But despite the agreement it was found that “known brands” were still advertising on the now-blocked sites. As a result authorities are now conducting an investigation into the agencies that placed the ads for companies in the financial, real estate, betting, retail and communications sector.
Enzo Mazza, chief of FIMI, Italy’s answer to the RIAA, said the action against the domains was welcome.
“The Fiscal Police from Rome carried out a very sophisticated operation including the economic angle of the case. This is the largest criminal action involving site blocking ever carried out,” Mazza told TorrentFreak.
“Some sites were also offering music concerts in addition to soccer and sport. We congratulate the special unit of the Fiscal Police and the public prosecutor from Rome for the operation.”