With the aim of reducing availability of pirated content, U.S. movie studios, recording labels, publishers, and more recently gaming company Nintendo, have named Sky and rival ISPs including Virgin Media, BT, TalkTalk, Plusnet and EE, as facilitators of their customers’ piracy habits.
The adversarial nature of such applications has long given way to a process that establishes ongoing infringement, formalizes the ISPs’ knowledge of that infringement, and then considers them ‘innocent infringers’ required to prevent infringement using various blocking measures.
Those who obtain the blockades insist they’re effective, hence the dozens of requests and thousands of online locations blocked over the last 13+ years.
Sky as Both Applicant and Respondent
As a content producer and owner in its own right, Sky is an enthusiastic supporter of ISP blocking. When the MPA obtained a High Court injunction to block cyberlocker platform Mixdrop in early 2022, Sky joined the MPA as an injunction applicant, with Sky’s ISP division one of several ISP respondents, some of them content distributors in their own right.
In an article published Sunday, the Financial Times reported that Sky obtained another High Court blocking injunction last week, to protect its own broadcasts. The injunction reportedly has two aims, the first being to compel ISPs (including the one it operates) to block piracy services streaming its “best selling football games” to the UK public at a cut-down price.
The specifics of blocking programs are a tightly guarded secret; the Premier League and most major ISPs previously convinced the High Court that any disclosure could help to facilitate infringement of the Premier League’s rights, and/or help pirates circumvent High Court orders. With that established, it’s no surprise that the report doesn’t elaborate on what Sky will be able to block after winning the injunction last week.
That being said, the mention of “best selling” football games logically leads to Premier League matches, which are usually subject to blocking injunctions obtained directly by the Premier League itself and renewed each season at the High Court. That raises the interesting prospect of a potential changing of the guard.
Injunction Has a Novel Feature
Whether Sky is preparing to take responsibility for protecting Premier League matches in the form of its own broadcasts is currently unknown, but another aspect of the injunction is perhaps even more interesting. Again, no specifics have been made public and that’s unlikely to change, but it’s being claimed that the injunction will also seek to protect some of Sky’s linear TV channels.
After a “third-party group” identifies the sources of the illegal streams, Sky will be able to “shut down individual pirate sites at certain times” by issuing blocking instructions to the other ISPs named as respondents in the injunction. The Ashes on Sky Sports Cricket and House of the Dragon when airing on Sky Atlantic, are cited as two possible examples.
So What’s the Big Blocking Plan?
While even the most closely guarded secrets tend to leak out eventually, right now the specifics of the injunction are shrouded in mystery beyond the details above. However, by using information available to us right now, it’s possible to formulate a small number of potential theories, with one standing out as the most logical.
As previously reported, Sky (the ISP division) previously provided the Premier League with considerable inside information relating to the servers its customers consumed most bandwidth from at specified times, knowing that there was a good chance these were servers offering ‘pirate’ streams.
For obvious reasons, this raised eyebrows in respect of privacy, but documents discussing the program, seen by TF, indicate the mechanism is viewed in a particular way. Sky shouldn’t be considered as monitoring customers’ IP addresses, what they consume or from where. The focus should be placed at the other end instead; the IP addresses operated by pirate services and the volume of content they send to Sky’s internet customers.
Bringing More Blocking In-House Could Make Sense
With that subtle but legally significant difference in mind it’s not difficult to see how that situation might improve, should Sky itself become the holder of an injunction to protect its own content. Using technical information from its own ISP, to protect its own content, not just that of a third party like the Premier League, could be considered entirely normal.
We don’t know if that’s the case here, or if Sky still shares this type of information externally. But if it did, it would make sense to bring everything in-house and make better use of the monitoring already carried out to facilitate Premier League match blocking. That intelligence could then be used to protect scheduled TV content that Sky also owns, at the same time, at minimal cost.
It’s important to note that blocking Premier League content requires perpetual monitoring of many pirate IPTV services, even when matches aren’t being played. Widening the range of content to be blocked using information already being collected in that process would be a more effective use of resources.
Furthermore, IPTV blocking doesn’t mean blocking just a channel or two, it means blocking entire pirate services, so it’s not hard to see how blocking on match days a few days apart could be interspersed with blocking TV shows. Timed nicely, that could effectively mean the blocking of all known pirate services, perpetually. If presented as such in an application, that could lead to the court having reservations; as a welcome side-effect, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Whatever the plan, a scenario like that must be the end game, not just for Sky, but for all companies involved in TV content production and distribution. Aiming for anything less would mean pirate streams remaining viable and the overarching plan leaves no room for that.