Over the past two decades, online piracy has presented itself as a massive problem for the US and its entertainment industries.
It’s a global issue that’s hard to contain, but Hollywood and the major record labels are doing what they can.
One of the key strategies they’ve employed in recent years is website blocking. US companies have traveled to courts all over the world to have ISP blockades put in place, with quite a bit of success.
Interestingly, pirate site blocking isn’t yet a thing in the US. This is in part due to the ghosts of SOPA but, slowly, site blocking is making its way onto the political agenda again. At the same time, it’s making an appearance in US courts as well.
Late last week a group of independent movie companies, including Millennium Media and Bodyguard Productions, filed yet another lawsuit against a hosting provider in Colorado.
The lawsuit targets Micfo LLC and its alleged operator Amir Golestan, claiming that they failed to stop or limit piracy that took place through VPN customers such as Hide My Ass.
Movie Companies Request Pirate Site Blockade
The allegations are similar to the ones we have previously covered in detail but our eye was drawn to a specific request. Aside from the copyright claims and requested piracy damages, the movie companies also want popular pirate sites to be blocked.
Specifically, the movie companies want the hosting service to block all foreign pirate sites that are identified in the US Trade Representative’s ‘Notorious Markets’ list. Their request reads as follows:
“[O]rder Defendants to block subscribers from accessing notorious piracy websites of foreign origin that are listed in the annual trade report of Notorious Foreign Markets published by the United States Government such as (a) YTS; (b) Piratebay; (c) Rarbg; (d) 1337x; and (e) Popcorntime on networks under their control to prevent further pirating of Plaintiffs’ Works via the BitTorrent protocol.”
As far as we know, this is the first time that copyright holders have asked for an order to block specific pirate sites. A similar request was made in a lawsuit against VPN provider LiquidVPN a few weeks ago, but in that case the pirate sites were not named.
With these lawsuits, we can argue that pirate site blocking requests have officially arrived in US courts. However, it’s not the main goal of the lawsuit, and whether it will lead anywhere has yet to be seen.
The defendant in the most recent lawsuit, hosting company Micfo, no longer appears to be operational. The company and its owner were indicted by a grand jury in Charleston, South Carolina in 2019, and stand accused of a scheme to fraudulently obtain IP addresses from ARIN.
This means that even if an order is granted, there isn’t much to block. And there are other uncertainties as well.
In the case against LiquidVPN, the movie companies also request a blocking order. Specifically, they want the VPN service to block subscribers from accessing notorious piracy sites highlighted in the annual USTR report.
USTR’s Pirate Site List Isn’t Perfect
The USTR report isn’t something any court can follow blindly. While it comes directly from a Government agency, it is solely based on input from copyright holders, which isn’t very balanced.
In fact, the USTR itself notes that its annual Notorious Markets overview “does not make findings of legal violations” and that some of the reported sites also offer legal content.
And indeed, the most recent list of notorious markets includes The Pirate Bay and YTS, but also billion-dollar businesses such as Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Mercadolibre.com, Snapdeal.com, VK.com and Baidu Wangpan.
Needless to say, blocking companies such as Amazon and Baidu would be an overreach, and we assume that the court will realize this as well.
What’s clear, however, is that pirate site blocking requests are gradually entering the US court system. The movie companies that filed these cases are not the usual Hollywood suspects and they may settle these matters before trial, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
A copy of the complaint, filed by Millennium Media, Bodyguard Productions and others against Micfo LLC is available here (pdf)