Having ISPs block file-sharing sites is a key anti-piracy strategy employed by major rightsholders in the UK. Both Hollywood-affiliated groups and the recording labels have obtained High Court orders alongside claims that the process is an effective way to hinder piracy.
Last week these rightsholders were joined by luxury brand owner Richemont, which successfully obtained orders to block sites selling counterfeit products. The outcome of that particular case had delayed decisions in other blocking applications, including one put forward by the record labels. Today the High Court ended its hiatus by processing a new injunction.
The application was made by record labels 1967, Dramatico Entertainment, Infectious Music, Liberation Music, Simco Limited, Sony Music and Universal Music. The labels represented themselves plus the BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) and PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) which together account for around 99% of all music legally available in the UK today.
Through their legal action the labels hoped to disrupt the activities of sites and services they believe to be enabling and facilitating the unlawful distribution of their copyright works. In this case the key targets were the 21 torrent sites listed below:
(1) bittorrent.am, (2) btdigg.org, (3) btloft.com, (4) bts.to, (5) limetorrents.com, (6) nowtorrents.com, (7) picktorrent.com, (8) seedpeer.me, (9) torlock.com, (10) torrentbit.net, (11) torrentdb.li, (12) torrentdownload.ws, (13) torrentexpress.net, (14) torrentfunk.com, (15) torrentproject.com, (16) torrentroom.com, (17) torrents.net, (18) torrentus.eu, (19) torrentz.cd, (20) torrentzap.com and (21) vitorrent.org.
As usual the UK’s leading Internet service providers – Sky, Virgin, TalkTalk, BT and EE – were named as defendants in the case. The ISPs neither consented to nor opposed the application but participated in order to negotiate the wording of any order granted.
In his ruling Justice Arnold noted that the sites listed in the application function in a broadly similar way to The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents, sites that are already subjected to blocking orders. Perhaps surprisingly, efforts by some of the sites to cooperate with rightsholders meant little to the Court.
“All of [the sites] go to considerable lengths to facilitate and promote the downloading of torrent files, and hence infringing content, by their users,” Justice Arnold wrote.
“Although a few of the Target Websites pay lipservice to copyright protection, in reality they all flout it. Although a few of the Target Websites claim not to, they all have control over which torrent files they index.”
Also of interest is that Court didn’t differentiate between sites that allow users to upload torrents, those that store them, or those that simply harvest links to torrents hosted elsewhere.
“Thirteen of the Target Websites (bittorrent.am, btdigg.org, btloft.com, nowtorrents.com, picktorrent.com, torrentdb.li, torrentdownload.ws, torrentexpress.net, torrentproject.com, torrentroom.com, torrentus.eu, torrentz.cd and vitorrent.org) do not permit uploads of torrent files by users, but gather all their links to torrent files using ‘crawling’ technology. No torrent files are stored on these websites’ own servers,” Justice Arnold explained.
“Nevertheless, the way in which the torrent files (or rather the links thereto) are presented, and the underlying technology, is essentially the same as in the cases of the other Target Websites.”
The Judge also touched on the efficacy of website blockades, citing comScore data which suggests that, on average, the number of UK visitors to already blocked BitTorrent sites has declined by 87%.
“No doubt some of these users are using circumvention measures which are not reflected in the comScore data, but for the reasons given elsewhere it seems clear that not all users do this,” Justice Arnold wrote.
Speaking with TF the BPI said that the 21 sites had been selected for blocking on the basis that they are amongst the most infringing sites available in the UK today. BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor said that having them rendered inaccessible would help both the music industry and consumers.
“Illegal sites dupe consumers and deny artists a fair reward for their work. The online black market stifles investment in new British music, holds back the growth of innovative legal services like Spotify and destroys jobs across Britain’s vital creative sector,” Taylor said.
“Sites such as these also commonly distribute viruses, malware and other unsafe or inappropriate content. These blocks will not only make the internet a safer place for music fans, they will help make sure there is more great British music in years to come.”
Finally, and mirroring a decision made in the Richemont case, Justice Arnold said that Internet subscribers affected by the block will be given the ability to apply to the High Court to discharge or vary the orders. Furthermore, when blocked site information pages are viewed by ISP subscribers in future, additional information will have to be displayed including details of the parties who obtained the block.