Over the past year or so the UK has become the easiest country in the world in which to have a website blocked on copyright grounds.
With several successful court orders in hand, it is now a mere formality to have a torrent site or streaming portal blocked by the High Court. And indeed, following in the footsteps of the movie and music industries the Premier League has now scored a victory in court with an order compelling six major UK ISPs to block access to the popular sports streaming site Firstrow1.eu.
The FirstRow website receives over a million visitors per day and offers streams to major sporting events, including matches of the English soccer league. The Premier League’s legal action was supported by several other sports organizations including UEFA, the PGA European Tour and the Rugby Football Union.
This week High Court Judge Arnold ruled in favor of the sports groups and ordered the Internet providers to block the IP-addresses and domain names of FirstRow. The Judge argues that while FirstRow itself doesn’t host any streams, it is responsible for the copyright infringements that occur through the site.
“FirstRow aggregates together a large number of streams from a variety of streamers, indexes them for the convenience of the user and provides a simple link for the user to click on in order to access a specific stream,” Judge Arnold wrote.
“It is true that the technical effect of clicking on the link is to direct the stream from the user-generated content site to the user’s computer, but even so the stream is presented in a frame provided by FirstRow. In all the circumstances, I consider that FirstRow is responsible for the communication.”
The order further states that FirstRow is not merely used to serve consumers, but that bars and pubs also use the unauthorized streams in their establishments.
“FirstRow is not merely used to watch coverage of sporting events in users’ homes. On the contrary, Premier League’s agents have discovered that FirstRow is being used by some public houses in the UK so as to show their customers broadcasts of Premier League matches, including during the Closed Period on a Saturday afternoon,” Judge Arnold wrote.
In a comment on the decision, the owner of FirstRow told TorrentFreak that he is saddened by the “nonsense” verdict. He notes that the site only indexes user-generated content from external sites. “What’s next?” he says.
“Our site uses third-party players, so blocking FirstRow will not stop the streams, as these will still be accessible online. They are saying that FirstRow is illegal, but our site is indexing streams that are available on the web, which is free information,” FirstRow’s owner told us.
The sports organizations argued that FirstRow makes millions of pounds through its website. The Premier League’s expert witness Dr David Price estimates that FirstRow is likely to generate between £5,360,680 and £9,505,564 in annual revenue, but FirstRow disputes this statistic.
According to the owner FirstRow makes roughly £6,000 a month, while £4,000 is spent on server costs. In addition, he believes that the site is offering a great service to the public.
“FirstRow is for people who don’t have any other way to see their team, because they are poor or simply because in their country a game is not aired on TV. Sports belong to the fans, not to the greedy corporations that increase their profits every year. The thousands of emails we receive every week confirm that.”
While FirstRow may soon be blocked in the UK, the site’s owner doesn’t believe the blocking order will be very effective.
“FirstRow will remain accessible for all other countries, and UK users can use proxies or the thousands of other websites like ours that remain open,” he told us.
Interestingly, Judge Arnold partly agrees as he states in his verdict that the blockades will be reasonably effective, but that not impossible to circumvent.
“The orders are narrow and targeted ones, and they contain safeguards in the event of any change of circumstances. While they are unlikely to be completely efficacious, since some users will be able to circumvent the technical measures which the orders require the Defendants to adopt, it is likely that they will be reasonably effective.”
And so the game of Whack-A-Mole will continue, and undoubtedly more websites will be added to the country’s unofficial ban list in the months to come.