New Pirate Site Blocking Law Allows Intermediaries To File Complaints

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Site-blocking is now so commonplace that when yet another country adds itself to the list of participants, barely an eyebrow is raised in opposition. DNS interference is already in place so if that's met with a shrug, why should anyone care about Uruguay's new site-blocking law? Operators of TV services and intermediaries, despite not being copyright holders themselves, can now apply for blocking measures, actionable within four days.

stopstopA decade ago prominent voices issued dire warnings that blocking would “break the internet,” but of course, the internet survived, just as blocking advocates said it would.

That meant tacit permission for more piracy blocks, then faster blocks, and then both – with less involvement of the courts and unnecessary public oversight. And with the groundwork done, other countries could quickly implement the same kinds of systems because the Internet is doing just fine.

Those who issued those warnings a decade ago weren’t supporters of piracy – but they did know what was coming. Dozens of countries now have site-blocking systems in place and ISPs actively help to set them up. The recent moves against DNS providers are alarming but in time, they too will become the latest uncontested standard before implementation of the next incremental step, followed by the next.

Of course, it would be alarmist to even imply that blocking, censoring, or diverting other types of information might suit future governments worldwide. Uruguay certainly doesn’t think so. Freedom of expression is fully guaranteed for citizens, groups and the press, without any kind of censorship, including the internet. With some exceptions, apparently.

Uruguay Implements Site-Blocking

Following legal action by Fox Networks Group Latin America, in 2018 a criminal court in Uruguay instructed local ISPs to block popular sports streaming portal RojaDirecta.

The head of the Fox Networks’ anti-piracy unit described the ruling as “the beginning of judicial awareness on online piracy issues.” It was indeed just the beginning.

The government made its intentions clear in 2020 with Article 712 of Law No. 19,924, which envisioned the Communications Services Regulatory Unit (URSEC) taking the lead to ensure that allegedly infringing content was blocked by local Internet service providers, before it could reach consumers in Uruguay.

Time to Start Blocking

Uruguay’s Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining (MIEM), issued a decree on October 25, 2022. It states that since it is “the obligation of the State to ensure the protection of intellectual work and copyright,” the introduction of a pirate site blocking regime is the government’s response.

“The issued decree was conceived to eliminate the broadcasting of television signals broadcast through the Internet or similar networks, for unauthorized commercial purposes, which violates laws 9,739, on literary and artistic property, and 17,616, on the protection of intellectual property,” a government statement reads.

Any complaints concerning illegal TV streams must be sent to the Communications Services Regulatory Unit (URSEC). If the regulator is satisfied, instructions will be issued to service providers to implement blocking or similar measures within four days.

What sets this system apart from those available in most other countries is that applications for blocking can be filed by companies that aren’t necessarily the ultimate rightsholders of TV shows or movies.

TV Services and Intermediaries

As Article 1 of Decree No. 345/022 explains, operators of licensed television services in Uruguay can report pirate services to URSEC for evaluation and if the regulator agrees, comprehensive blocking measures will follow.

[T]he holders of television services for subscribers may file a well-founded complaint with the URSEC, as an affidavit, so that the Unit can evaluate it and order, if applicable, the notification to platforms and/or independent intermediaries or the provision of a temporary electronic blockade that is necessary to prevent access from the national territory to IP addresses (Internet Protocol) and/or Internet domains (DNS) and/or URLs (Uniform Resource Locator), corresponding to specific offers of infringing products, services and/or content, as appropriate, that are used to develop such activities, under the sole responsibility of the person filing the complaint.

Notwithstanding the provisions of the preceding paragraph, when the platform and/or the independent intermediary have their own complaint mechanisms for the removal of content and/or sales offers of allegedly illegal products and/or services, the owner or representative of the complainant, may appeal through the means provided by the intermediary, in order to assert their rights through the fastest and most effective means.(Translated from Spanish)

The decree’s Article 3 details the rest of the process, including that assumed pirate services will initially face blocking for up to 30 days in advance of a judicial review.

Blocking vs. Freedom of Expression

The Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address Registry (LACNIC) appreciates the new blocking regime is designed to protect content from piracy. However, it has fears that freedom of expression could be a casualty due to an absence of skills to implement accurate blocking.

“Recently the state published a decree in which the authorities can block sites that violate intellectual property rights, in essence: television signals that are transmitted illegally,” says Oscar Robles Garay, executive director of LACNIC.

“It’s okay to protect the intellectual property of others, but sometimes when you do that without enough technical expertise, other rights can be affected: websites, government sites, schools and more, which is clearly not the focus of these measures.”

A decision on whether live streams should be blocked within 30 minutes of a complaint has been delayed until next year but, given moves in other regions, implementation seems is only a question of time.

After that, requests for complex dynamic injunctions will likely follow and when they aren’t considered effective enough, interference with DNS records seems the next likely blocking candidate. By then, even more aggressive blocking options will become available, most likely across 45 to 50 countries, covering just hundreds of millions of internet users, and countless ISPs and intermediaries.

When none of these measures return the required results, tougher measures will undoubtedly follow. But whatever they are, the internet will never, ever break. Promise.


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