The ISP under legal pressure to block The Pirate Bay in Sweden has criticized efforts to make the provider an accomplice in other people’s crimes. In a joint statement two key executives of Telenor / Bredbandsbolaget warn that folding to the wishes of private copyright holder interests could mark the beginning of the end for the open Internet.
The Pirate Bay remains freely accessible in the Netherlands pending the outcome of a landmark lawsuit. Before making a final decision, the Dutch Supreme Court wants clarification from the EU Court of Justice on several issues. Among other things, the EU Court must decide whether The Pirate Bay communicates illegal content to the public.
Copyright holders celebrated a landmark victory early September when a Norwegian court ordered local ISPs to block the Pirate Bay. A breakthrough verdict perhaps, but one with a major flaw as the rightsholder forgot to list one of the site’s main domain names.
The Norwegian Pirate Party has made a big statement by launching a free DNS service which allows Internet users to bypass the local Pirate Bay blockade. The party advocates a free and open Internet for everyone and believes that the recent website blockades set a dangerous precedent.
Early last year The Court of The Hague handed down its decision in a long running case which had previously forced two Dutch ISPs, Ziggo and XS4ALL, to block The Pirate Bay.
The Court ruled against local anti-piracy outfit BREIN, concluding that the blockade was ineffective and restricted the ISPs’ entrepreneurial freedoms.
Responding to the verdict the two ISPs quickly unblocked the site and various other Dutch ISPs followed suit.
Meanwhile, the Hollywood-backed group took its case all the way to the Supreme Court and today Advocate General Van Peursem published his conclusion after a careful review.
The Advocate General advises the Supreme Court to stay the proceedings between BREIN and the Internet providers in order to seek clarification from the EU Court of Justice on several matters.
The first question that requires a European review is whether The Pirate Bay is actually communicating illegal content to the public. If this isn’t the case then the EU Court should rule whether ISPs can be ordered to block the site on other grounds.
A decision at the European level will be important, as it may also affect court orders in other countries, such as the UK, Italy and Belgium.
When the questions are resolved at the EU Court, the Advocate General advises to redo the entire trial noting that The Court of The Hague was too strict when it concluded that the blockade was ineffective and disproportional.
The Advocate General’s advice is not binding so it’s not yet certain whether the case will be referred to the EU Court of Justice. However, in most cases the recommendations are followed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is expected to release its verdict on October 9th.
Following a series of blocking orders issued by the High Court, UK Internet providers Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin, BT and EE are currently required to restrict access to many of the world’s largest torrent sites and streaming portals.
More than 100 websites have been blocked in recent years and today the court issued the first injunction against domains that offer no direct links, but only software.
The order, obtained today by Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association, targets five popular Popcorn Time forks: popcorntime.io, flixtor.me, popcorn-time.se, and isoplex.isohunt.to.
In his order Judge Birss notes that the Popcorm Time software has little to no legal use. Instead, he mentions that it’s mostly used to download and stream pirated movies and TV-shows.
“It is manifest that the Popcorn Time application is used in order to watch pirated content on the internet and indeed it is also manifest that that is its purpose. No-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content,” Judge Birss writes.
“The point of Popcorn Time is to infringe copyright. The Popcorn Time application has no legitimate purpose,” he adds.
Like any form of censorship web blockades can sometime lead to overblocking, targeting perfectly legitimate websites by mistake.
This is also happening in the UK where Sky’s blocking technology is inadvertently blocking sites that have nothing to do with piracy.
In addition to blocking domain names, Sky also blocks IP-addresses. This allows the site to stop https connections to The Pirate Bay and its proxies, but when IP-addresses are shared with random other sites they’re blocked too.
This is happening to various customers of the CDN service CloudFlare, which is used by many sites on the UK blocklist. Every now and then this causes legitimate sites to be blocked, such as CloudFlare customers who shared an IP-address with Pirate Bay proxy ilikerainbows.co.uk.
Although the domain is merely a redirect to ilikerainbows.co, it’s listed in Sky’s blocking system along with several CloudFlare IP-addresses. Recently, the CDN service received complaints from users about the issue and alerted the proxy owner.
“It has come to our attention that your website — ilikerainbows.co.uk — is causing CloudFlare IPs to be blocked by SkyB, an ISP located in the UK. This is impacting other CloudFlare customers,” CloudFlare wrote.
The CDN service asked the proxy site to resolve the matter with Sky, or else it would remove the site from the network after 24 hours.
“If this issue does not get resolved with SkyB though we will need to route your domain off CloudFlare’s network as it is currently impacting other CloudFlare customers due to these blocked IP addresses.”
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.
After long maintaining a reputation for being one of the softest countries in Europe on piracy, in recent years Spain has really toughened up its approach to online infringement.
Last month the strength of new legislation became evident when a Madrid court gave local Internet service providers just 72 hours to block notorious torrent site The Pirate Bay (TPB).
The legal action against TPB was launched by the Association of Intellectual Rights Management (AGEDI) last year, but that wasn’t the only domain in the anti-piracy group’s sights. AGEDI and music group Promusicae had also been targeting Goear, an unlicensed music streaming service providing access to an estimated four million tracks.
Early efforts to bring down the site didn’t go to plan when a Madrid court refused to issue an order to block the site’s IP address back in March 2014. Undeterred, AGEDI responded with an appeal and complaint to the country’s Intellectual Property Commission.
Complaining that Goear provides access to copyrighted music without any permission from artists or rightsholders, AGEDI built a case highlighting commercial aspects of the site, particularly its advertising efforts which offered to put products in front of three million registered users via “millions of quality impressions.”
Goear had previously actioned some copyright takedowns, AGEDI said, but it was never enough to keep up with the rate that infringing content reappeared on the site.
After reviewing the case the National Court has now sided with AGEDI. Handing down an order similar to that issued last month in respect of The Pirate Bay, local ISPs have been given just 72 hours to block the site at the subscriber level. Currently the Goear website is hosted in the Netherlands.
“This new resolution adds to the one recently handed down in Spain against The Pirate Bay and confirms web blockades as the only effective measure to eliminate the websites that violate intellectual property rights,” said Promusicae and AGEDI president, Antonio Guisasola.
“The block against Goear means that the site will no longer be able to profit from the works of others. I always insist on the absolute need to act decisively to stop these kinds of sites that represent true unfair competition to other [authorized sites] that offer all the guarantees for consumers and producers of music.”
Whether local users will rush to unblock the site will remain to be seen. There are many dozens of similar portals offering access to the same level of content, none of which appear to be shutting down anytime soon.
After a Spanish court ordered local ISPs to implement a nationwide ban against The Pirate Bay last Friday, several local media outlets published articles listing alternatives to the infamous site. As a result they’re now under fire from entertainment industry companies including Paramount Pictures, with some even suggesting an advertising boycott.
After being blocked by ISPs in more than a dozen European territories, The Pirate Bay has now been rendered inaccessible in Spain following orders from a local court.
On Friday, Madrid’s Central Administrative Litigation Court No. 5 gave local service providers just 72 hours to stop providing access to the infamous site, with several responding much more quickly.
It soon became evident that the ‘ban’ was easily circumvented by Internet users savvy enough to change their DNS settings, but access to ‘pirate’ content isn’t only available through The Pirate Bay.
As a result ‘Pirate Bay Alternatives’ articles began appearing in local media, much as they have done in other countries subjected to ISP blocks. But while these popular lists are usually met with industry silence, in Spain they appear to have touched a nerve.
Founded in 1903, daily newspaper ABC published an online article titled “Other Options After Closing The Pirate Bay”. It drew an immediate response from Jaume Ripoll Vaquer, co-founder of legal video streaming site Filmin.com
“I see @ abc_es also continues the fashion of publicizing [sites that send traffic] to unauthorized content. Congratulations guys,” he wrote on Twitter.
While that criticism seems to have done the trick (ABC withdrew the article, Google cache here), others weren’t so easily deterred.
Published by El Confidencial, “Alternatives to The Pirate Bay: Where You Can Download Torrents in Spanish” provoked direct criticism from Paramount Pictures.
In comments to ElDiario, Paramount Pictures’ promotions manager Laura Ruiz Andrino said that financially supporting publications that direct their readers to places where illegal content can be obtained is not something that should be entertained.
And in a message to media managers at Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures, Andrino suggested that if sites like El Confidencial and ABC choose to support “illegal downloading”, perhaps companies opposed to that stance should consider an advertising boycott. Another Filmin co-founder agreed.
“When buying advertising one should also look at ethics, not only the audience,” he wrote.
Fighting back, Alfredo Pascual, chief editor of the technology section of El Confidencial told HojaDeRouter that the withdrawal of advertising could be viewed as an attack on the media’s right to inform.
“They end up attacking freedom of expression,” Pascual said. “My intention with this article is simply to show that the closure of sites is not a way to solve the problem. For every website that is closed there will be other ten, and this will be the never ending story until there is [a legal] offer that can meet the demand.”
Noting that threats had been made to withdraw press passes from his publication’s culture section, Pascual remains defiant.
“With each closing [of a website] I intend to publish another list [of alternative sites],” the editor concludes.