At least for a while, the battle lines seemed to be clearly drawn. ‘Greedy’ entertainment industry giants lined up on one side, with The Pirate Bay, its founders, and what felt like universal public support on the other. But as the dust of these battles began to settle, a new front opened up.
ISPs – Dumb Pipes or Piracy Facilitators?
As proud maintainers of non-discriminatory ‘dumb pipes’ that exist to facilitate the free flow of all information, many ISPs in Sweden stood strong while distancing themselves from the copyright infringements of their customers. They did not endorse illegality but for them it was a matter of principle. We don’t monitor and we don’t interfere. We are neutral.
In 2014, a coalition of major recording and movie companies put that disconnect to the test by suing Bredbandsbolaget (Broadband Company), warning that if the ISP didn’t block The Pirate Bay, it would be held liable for copyright infringement.
Following a trial in 2015, Bredbandsbolaget emerged victorious and then, following an appeal, the result was reversed in 2017. Ultimately it was decided that under EU law, copyright holders can indeed obtain blocking injunctions against any ISP whose services are used to commit copyright infringement.
ISP Telenor, which would later swallow up the Bredbandsbolaget business, was furious. It described the prospect of ISPs having to block websites as “a dangerous path to go down” and described website blocking as an ineffective way to stop online piracy.
That was just over five years ago and, unsurprisingly, even the strongest opinions are subject to change.
Faced with a relentless entertainment industry with the law on its side, Telenor and several other Swedish ISPs have now decided to team up with their former rivals to ensure that future site-blocking is carried out in the most effective way possible.
Entertainment Industries and ISPs Sign Agreement
The big problem for rightsholders today is the cumbersome nature of the site-blocking process – it’s time-consuming and expensive. Even when an injunction orders an ISP to block a site, the order does not apply to another. Then more pirate sites appear or relocate, some with new names.
What the entertainment industries really want is a process that takes much less time and eliminates wasteful repetition. It appears that major ISPs in Sweden broadly agree.
As reported by Swedish anti-piracy group Rights Alliance, the entertainment industries and major ISPs have now signed an agreement to operate a simplified and more efficient process to handle blocking orders.
“The industry agreement means that several internet providers are included in one and the same court case and that the parties at an earlier stage in the process exchange information about the scope of the action. The simplified process means that the court, upon application from the right holder, can focus on the core issues and decide whether a website should be blocked or not, while maintaining legal certainty,” the announcement reads.
Unusually yet commendably, the parties have opted for transparency. The details of the agreement are open for scrutiny and reveal what appears to be a practical arrangement. It recognizes the inevitability of injunctions in the right circumstances and the need to implement blocks efficiently while maintaining due process, court oversight, and the ability to deal with circumvention techniques.
Huge Numbers of Rightsholders Involved
Rather than have all rightsholders sign individually, major industry groups are their representatives in the agreement. The Motion Picture Association flies the flag for Hollywood’s major studios and Netflix, while local media companies are represented by Nordic Entertainment Group, Nordisk Film Distribution, Svensk Filmindustri and TV4 Media, among several others.
Recording industry giant IFPI will ensure that music is properly protected, local gaming industries will rely on Dataspelsbranschen, and the Swedish Publishers’ Association will take care of members representing 70% of the local market. The ISP signatories include communications giants Tele2, Telenor and Telia, all household names in Sweden.
Expansion and Future Goals
The published agreement also makes it clear that further expansion is planned and encouraged, applying equally to rightsholders and ISPs. Prospective members will be subject to conditions but given that they could play a role in changing the law, supporters are unlikely to be in short supply.
“The parties to the agreement have also agreed to jointly strive for new and clear legislation for administrative blocking in Sweden,” Rights Alliance notes, referencing systems in other countries that can block sites in a matter of days.