In common with similar businesses elsewhere in Europe, powerful Italian football clubs, broadcasters, and their powerful business associates in government, concluded long ago that only a draconian internet-blocking system supported by tough new law could force fans away from wallet-friendly pirate IPTV services and towards legal platforms.
During the summer of 2022, support for radical action against live-streaming piracy gathered momentum. New powers for telecoms regulator AGCOM would underpin an enhanced national ISP blocking system capable of taking down pirate IPTV streams in a matter of minutes. United as one against the ‘digital mafias‘ sucking the life out of the beautiful game, all that stood between an exclusive, tightly-controlled, piracy-free market was the Italian parliament.
Unanimous Approval from Both Houses
On March 22, 2023, the new bill was unanimously approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament. If subsequently passed by the upper house, the Senate of the Republic, telecoms regulator AGCOM would receive new powers to begin more intensive internet blocking, while football clubs and broadcasters could get back to selling their product to Italian football fans, minus the disruptive forces acting as competition in a market where very little tends to exist.
Proponents of the new law need not have worried. This week the Senate gave the bill a unanimous green light and welcomed its ‘provisions for the prevention and suppression of the unlawful dissemination of content protected by copyright via electronic communications networks.’
Key Points From The Bill
– The Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Education, telecoms regulator AGCOM, and “representative” trade organizations, will deliver public awareness campaigns on social media, TV, and radio. These will “counter the unauthorized use, illicit dissemination and piracy of content protected by copyright, involving artists, writers and sportsmen.” Similar initiatives will also be conducted in Italy’s secondary schools.
– AGCOM will be given powers to order service providers, including network access providers, to disable access to content distributed illegally online, by “blocking the resolution of domain names using the domain name system (DNS) and blocking the routing of network traffic to IP addresses uniquely intended for illicit activities.”
– AGCOM will have the power to order the blocking of any other future domain names, subdomains, or IP addresses, which allow access to the same content previously blocked.
IPTV: Live Event Blocking
– In cases of “seriousness and urgency” involving content being made available related to live broadcasts, first-run movies, sports events, or those of social or public interest, AGCOM will have the power to order service providers to block domain names and IP addresses without a hearing.
This will only be permissible when the affected rightsholders use protection entities with “particular capabilities and expertise in the fight against the abusive dissemination of content” who are able to carry out their activities “in a diligent, accurate and objective manner.”
– Taken together, the disabling provision and the term ‘service provider’ mean huge powers for AGCOM. The telecoms regulator can instruct network access providers, search engines, and any online entity involved in the accessibility of any infringing website or service in any capacity, to “execute its blocking instructions without any delay and, in any case, within the maximum term of 30 minutes from the notification, by disabling the DNS resolution of the domain names and the routing of network traffic to the IP addresses.”
– In the event that an IP address or domain name subject to DNS blocking is located within the European Union, AGCOM can use “partnerships with counterparts on a voluntary basis to combat more effectively the distribution of illegally distributed content in the territory of the European Union.”
Information gathered as a result of blocking requests and subsequent blocking will be sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Court of Rome with a view to identifying the suppliers of pirated content.
Certainty Over What Must Be Done, But Not How
The above represents a summary of the first 11 pages of a 202-page document, the remainder of which we will report on in due course. In the meantime, it’s worth highlighting that while there is certainty over the blocking instructions to be handed out and to whom, it’s far from clear that everyone involved knows how that will be achieved from a technical perspective.
Within 30 days of the law entering into force, AGCOM and various government ministries, in collaboration with the National Cybersecurity Agency and the Agency for Digital Italy, will reportedly convene a “technical table” with the participation of service providers, internet access providers, rightsholders, content providers, audiovisual media service providers, and the “most representative” anti-piracy groups.
The purpose will be to “define the requirements and the necessary technical and operational tools to allow the disabling of domain names or IP addresses..”
According to the text, blocking will be actioned through a “single technical platform with automated operation for all recipients of disabling instructions.” While that sounds impressive, the system doesn’t exist, at least not yet. The requirement is that the system will be built within six months from the convening of the technical table.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Fears that such an ambitious system could cause collateral damage via unjustified or erroneous blocking were mostly brushed aside. As recently as April, the Association of Italian Internet Providers spoke of the creation of a “mega-firewall” and warned that the blocking proposals were being pushed through too quickly.
Concerns over a potential imbalance between the protection of intellectual property on one hand, and the protection of the internet ecosystem on the other, were entirely justified but always destined to be crowded out by competing interests.
Eyes on the Goal, Only the Goal
Throughout the whole process, the contribution of football clubs to Italian society appeared to outweigh fears of a draconian internet blocking system, with alleged losses to piracy always being pushed to the foreground as justification. Every single time Italy’s football clubs came out on top, even when financial facts put them firmly at the bottom.
Losses in VAT, income tax, and corporation tax to piracy were valued at 319 million euros when widely publicized in March 2022. The fact that Italian football clubs still owed the state nearly half a billion euros in unpaid taxes from 2020 felt like a footnote referencing a small cash flow issue.
The fact that top-tier league Serie A itself was sponsored by a piracy-supporting online gambling company, at exactly the same time it complained about the Italian public using IPTV, received very little coverage. When that gambling company went bankrupt (and didn’t pay its taxes), the news barely moved the needle.
The fact that some of the top clubs in Italy are owned by businessmen who are also politicians, was obviously coincidental to the recent deal that allows tax debts to be paid back over five years, with none of the complicated penalties usually levied when companies spend all of their own money and then spend all of that owed to the state too.
If all goes to plan, Italian football fans will soon have no other choice than to spend their money with legitimate providers, who will no doubt reduce their prices to make content more affordable for regular people, because business will be booming.
The blocking system will be completed on time as well, obviously.