Few countries welcomed pirate site blocking measures as they spread across the world over the past 15 years. Australian citizens were as vocal in opposition as expected but in common with their overseas counterparts, eventually accepted that blocking is here to stay.
The Australian government recently released the 2022 edition of its Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement. According to the study, 17% of Aussie consumers encountered a blocked site in the previous three months.
Six out of ten “simply gave up” trying to access any content at all, regardless of the source. Of the remainder, 16% bypassed the block, 14% sought lawful access to the content, while a persistent 6% persevered hoping they could find another pirate site that rightsholders had not yet blocked.
In reality there are always new ways to access even freshly blocked sites. Unencumbered by the rule of law or the restrictions of a tightly governed legal process, pirates can bypass a block in minutes, safe in the knowledge that rightsholders will have to catch up, and the legal system will also have to catch up with them.
The Australian system is particularly thorough and at times, blocking decisions have taken a very long time to hand down. If a new blocking injunction handed down late last week is any barometer, the tide may have already turned.
Movie Studios File Statement of Claim at Federal Court
The studios filed their statement of claim at the Federal Court on June 2, 2023. Netflix, Disney, Columbia, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros., Village Roadshow, and several affiliated companies informed the Court that 22 overseas streaming platforms were infringing their copyrights.
Since those platforms have the “primary purpose or the primary effect of infringing, or facilitating an infringement,” the entertainment companies said that a blocking injunction was warranted under Section 115A of the Copyright Act.
Most of the nominated domain names belong to streaming sites specializing in mainstream movies, TV shows, and the ubiquitously-popular content of the moment, Japanese anime. Popular platforms on the list include 9anime, Onionplay, and EZTV. (full list below)
The blocking application listed more than four dozen respondents, including internet service providers Telstra, Optus, Vocus, Vodafone and TPG. After gaining several years’ worth of experience handling these applications, the time from statement of claim to an award of an injunction has been improving. In most cases, however, the gap could still be measured in months, far from satisfactory in a rapidly-shifting piracy market.
Blocking Injunction Awarded in Record Time
As the screenshot above shows, at least three of the domains requested for blocking are already dead and up for sale, a position likely to worsen in the weeks and months ahead. While that’s not a problem as far as the injunction goes, there are signs that Australia’s blocking machine is being optimized.
Following a statement of claim filed in early June, the final documents were submitted by Netflix on July 7.
The Federal Court handed down the requested order on the very same day, instructing the 49 ISPs to disable access to the sites’ domain names, IP addresses, or URLs, within 15 days of service of the instructions. If pirate site operators believe they have a genuine reason to oppose blocking, they have a limited time to make a complaint.
“The owner or operator of any of the Target Online Locations and the owner or operator of any website who claims to be affected by these Orders may apply on 3 days’ written notice, including notice to all parties, to vary or discharge these Orders,” the Federal Court order reads.
With that scenario extremely unlikely to play out, the site operators will have to commit to a game of cat-and-mouse if they want Australian users to retain direct access to their websites. The injunction is dynamic, which means that any alternative domains, URLs, or IP addresses deployed to undermine blocking, will also be subject to the same injunction and therefore immediate candidates for blocking.
Blocking will remain in place for three years and in the event the platforms still “have the primary purpose or the primary effect” of infringing or facilitating infringement, a short administrative process will extend blocking for a further three years.
The Federal Court order is available here (pdf) and the full list of domains reads as follows: