Pirate IPTV Blocking Case is No Slam Dunk Says Federal Court Judge

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A Federal Court judge in Australia isn't making life easy for lawyers representing Hong Kong broadcasting giant Television Broadcasts Limited. The company wants pirate IPTV services blocked Down Under but complexities surrounding eligibility for protection under Australian law and blocking injunction specifics means that Justice Nicholas won't be rushed into a decision.

Last year, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) applied for a blocking injunction against several unauthorized IPTV services.

Under the Copyright Act, the broadcaster asked the Federal Court to order ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries to block access to seven Android-based services named as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.

Unlike torrent site and streaming portal blocks granted earlier, it soon became clear that this case would present unique difficulties. TVB not only wants Internet locations (URLs, domains, IP addresses) related to the technical operation of the services blocked, but also hosting services akin to Google Play and Apple’s App Store that host the app.

Furthermore, it is far from clear whether China-focused live programming is eligible for copyright protection in Australia. If China had been a party to the 1961 Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations, it would receive protection. As it stands, it does not.

That causes complications in respect of Section 115a of the Copyright Act which allows rightsholders to apply for an injunction to have “overseas online locations” blocked if they facilitate access to copyrighted content. Furthermore, the section requires that the “primary purpose” of the location is to infringe copyrights recognized in Australia. If it does not, then there’s no blocking option available.

“If most of what is occurring here is a reproduction of broadcasts that are not protected by copyright, then the primary purpose is not to facilitate copyright infringement,” Justice Nicholas said in April.

This morning TVB returned to Federal Court for a scheduled hearing. The ISPs were a no-show again, leaving the broadcaster’s legal team to battle it out with Justice Nicholas alone. According to details published by ComputerWorld, he isn’t making it easy for the overseas company.

The Judge put it to TVB that “the purpose of this system [the set-top boxes] is to make available a broadcast that’s not copyright protected in this country, in this country,” he said.

“If 10 per cent of the content was infringing content, how could you say the primary purpose is infringing copyright?” the Judge asked.

But despite the Judge’s reservations, TVB believes that the pirate IPTV services clearly infringe its rights, since alongside live programming, the devices also reproduce TVB movies which do receive protection in Australia. However, the company is also getting creative in an effort to sidestep the ‘live TV’ conundrum.

TVB counsel Julian Cooke told the Court that live TVB broadcasts are first reproduced on foreign servers from where they are communicated to set-top devices in Australia with a delay of between one and four minutes. This is a common feature of all pirate IPTV services which potentially calls into question the nature of the ‘live’ broadcasts. The same servers also carry recorded content too, he argued.

“Because the way the system is set up, it compounds itself … in a number of instances, a particular domain name, which we refer to as the portal target domain name, allows a communication path not just to live TV, but it’s also the communication path to other applications such as replay and video on demand,” Cooke said, as quoted by ZDNet.

Cooke told the Court that he wasn’t sure whether the threshold for “primary purpose” was set at 50% of infringing content but noted that the majority of the content available through the boxes is infringing and the nature of the servers is even more pronounced.

“It compounds the submission that the primary purpose of the online location which is the facilitating server is to facilitate the infringement of copyright using that communication path,” he said.

As TF predicted in our earlier coverage, TVB today got creative by highlighting other content that it does receive copyright protection for in Australia. Previously in the UK, the Premier League successfully stated that it owns copyright in the logos presented in a live broadcast.

This morning, Cooke told the court that TVB “literary works” – scripts used on news shows and subtitling services – receive copyright protection in Australia so urged the Court to consider the full package.

“If one had concerns about live TV, one shouldn’t based on the analysis we’ve done … if one adds that live TV infringements together with video on demand together with replay, there could be no doubt that the primary purpose of the online locations is to infringe copyright,” he said.

Due to the apparent complexity of the case, Justice Nicholas reserved his decision, telling TVB that his ruling could take a couple of months after receiving his “close attention.”

Last week, Village Roadshow and several major Hollywood studios won a blocking injunction against a different pirate IPTV service. HD Subs Plus delivers around 600 live premium channels plus hundreds of movies on demand, but the service will now be blocked by ISPs across Australia.

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