In recent years blockades of “pirate” websites have spread across Europe and elsewhere. In the UK, for example, more than 100 websites are currently blocked by the major ISPs.
In recent weeks alone several new countries adopted similar measures, Australia, Spain and Portugal included.
Opponents of this censorship route often argue that the measures are ineffective, and that people simply move to other sites. However, in its latest Digital Music Report music industry group IFPI disagrees, pointing at research conducted in the UK.
“Website blocking has proved effective where applied,” IFPI writes, noting that the number of UK visits to “all BitTorrent” sites dropped from 20 million in April 2012 to 11 million two years later.
The key to an effective blocking strategy is to target not just one, but all leading pirate sites.
“While blocking an individual site does not have a significant impact on overall traffic to unlicensed services, once a number of leading sites are
blocked then there is a major impact,” IFPI argues.
For now, however, courts have shown to be among the biggest hurdles. It can sometimes take years before these cases reach a conclusion, and the same requests have to be made in all countries.
To streamline the process, copyright holders now want blocking injunctions to apply across borders, starting in the European Union.
“The recording industry continues to call for website blocking legislation where it does not already exist. In countries where there is already a legal basis for blocking, procedures can be slow and burdensome,” IFPI writes.
Shaheed said a “widely shared concern stems from the tendency for copyright protection to be strengthened with little consideration to human rights issues.” This is illustrated by trade negotiations conducted in secrecy, and with the participation of corporate entities, she said.
She stressed the fact that one of the key points of her report is that intellectual property rights are not human rights. “This equation is false and misleading,” she said.
As the archrival of many copyright groups, The Pirate Bay has become one of the most censored websites on the Internet in recent years.
Courts all around the world have ordered Internet providers to block subscriber access to the torrent site and the list continues to expand.
Last month French ISPs started blocking The Pirate Bay and last week the Intellectual Property Court in Portugal ordered a similar measure against local Internet providers.
The case was brought by the Association for Copyright Management, Producers and Publishers (GEDIPE), who argued that their members are financially hurt by TPB’s services.
In its verdict the court ruled that Vodafone, MEO and NOS have to prevent users from visiting the torrent site within 30 days. If they fail to do so the ISPs face a fine of 2,500 euros per day.
The injunction marks the first time that Internet providers in Portugal are required to block a website on copyright grounds. Previously there were cases against unknown website owners, but not ISPs.
“In the case of Pirate Bay, the judge decided to blame the Internet provider, which now face a financial penalty,” GEDIPE boss Paulo Santos comments.
Pirate Bay is currently among the 100 most visited sites in Portugal. Whether the blockade will stop people from pirating has yet to be seen. Several other TPB proxies remain available, and so are dozens of other torrent sites.
GEDIPE is urging the Internet providers to discuss voluntary actions to target other pirate sites. If they refuse to do so, the group will go back to court to demand more injunctions.
“Internet providers are not our enemies. If they combat pirate sites they will also be defending their own content distribution businesses. It is time to sit down and negotiate blocking measures that don’t require the courts to get involved,” Santos says.
“If Internet providers don’t want to go down down this road we have to move forward with injunctions targeting dozens of sites that promote sharing of pirated content,” he adds.
The ISPs have previously spoken out against blocking measures, arguing that they will block legitimate content as well. They still have the option to appeal the injunction but thus far it’s unclear if they will.