Rightsholders & Belgian ISPs Cooperate to Block 450 ‘Pirate’ Domains


Rightsholders and ISPs in Belgium have agreed to present a list of 450 domains to a judge alongside allegations they facilitate illegal downloading. With the ISPs keen to assist but without accepting any liability, it appears that the collaborative process will lead to the blocking of the domains while avoiding complex and costly legal proceedings.

While site-blocking on copyright infringement grounds is now widespread, in most countries it requires intervention from the courts.

The process nearly always involves rightsholders grouping together with claims that customers of ISPs are infringing their rights by using ‘pirate’ sites to obtain movies, TV shows and music. As such, it isn’t pirate sites that are targeted by rightsholder legal action, but the ISPs themselves.

Of course, none of the ISPs targeted are breaking the law by providing access to the sites. However, the demands for a blocking injunction frame the ISPs as the wrong-doers, even if there is an underlying understanding that the pirate sites themselves are the issue. For this reason, ISPs around the world have regularly found themselves in an adversarial process.

In the Netherlands, for example, ISPs took their fight to the highest court in Europe to avoid blocking but will almost certainly fail after spending large sums of money. In others, such as the UK where the blocking process has matured, ISPs rarely object to anything, smoothing the process for both them and the rightsholders.

With the knowledge that site-blocking injunctions are likely to be granted by national courts in Europe, rightsholders and ISPs in Belgium now appear to be taking a collaborative approach. Sites have been blocked in the country before but future blocking efforts will be much easier to implement if a case before the Commercial Court of Brussels runs to plan.

It involves the Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA) on one side and ISPs Proximus, Telenet and VOO on the other. Rather than squabbling over the details, it appears that the parties will jointly present a list of 33 websites and 450 domain names to a judge, alongside claims that they facilitate the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

According to a report from L’Echo (paywall), the companies hope to avoid complex and costly legal proceedings by working together and accepting the inevitability of a blocking injunction.

The case has been running for a year already but during a hearing before the Commercial Court of Brussels this week, Benoît Michaux, lawyer for the Belgian Entertainment Association, explained the new approach.

“The European legislator has put in place a mechanism that allows a national judge to request injunctions to order the providers to block access to the websites in question”, Michaux said.

After being presented to the Court, the list of sites and domains will be assessed to determine whether they’re acting illegally. Michaux said that the parties have settled on a common approach and have been able to identify “reasonable measures” that can be ordered by the Court that are consistent with case law of the European Court of Justice.

“This joint request is a little unusual, things are changing, there is a certain maturation of minds, we realize, from all sides, that we must tackle the problem of piracy by blocking measures. There is a common vision on what to do and how to handle piracy,” he said.

While the ISPs are clearly on a path of cooperation, L’Echo reports that concerns over possible breaches of the E-Commerce Directive mean that the ISPs don’t want to take action against the sites themselves without being ordered to do so by the Court.

“The responsible actors want to demonstrate that it is possible to stop piracy through procedural law,” says Benoît Van Asbroeck, lawyer for Proximus and Telenet.

The Court is expected to hand down its judgment within a month. Given the cooperation on all sides, it’s likely to be in favor of mass site-blocking.

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