Sweeping court ruling orders ISPs to block pirate sites


A copyright battle has spawned a sweeping order requiring internet service providers to block a set of pirate sites – one of the broadest rulings to date.

Like TorrentFreak recently reported, a New York district judge ruled in late April on a series of copyright lawsuits against three sites that primarily rebroadcast TV shows in Hebrew. The rightsholders sought damages from the site’s operators – who failed to appear in court – and an injunction designed to prevent viewers from accessing the services. Judge Katherine Polk Failla approved the request and ordered a hefty list of ISPs to block Israel-TV.com, Israel.tv and Sdarot.com. Companies are required to block not only current addresses, but also any domain known to be “used in the future…by all available technological means”. Instead, users should be directed to a page that notifies them of the block.

It’s not just ISPs that are affected either. Web hosting providers, web designers, domain name registration services, and advertising companies, among others, are prohibited from doing business with the Sites.

Copyright lawsuits can seek restraint orders. But it’s highly unusual that they’re so comprehensive, says Meredith Rose, senior policy adviser at the nonprofit Public Knowledge. “This scope of the injunction and the listing of many actors is beyond the norm,” she says. Among other things, third parties are supposed to have the ability to come to court and challenge restraint orders, which removes the barrier to demanding them. This does not appear to have happened in this case.

Instead, like Mike Masnick of Techdirt described, the order recalls the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA-PIPA – a highly controversial bill that was scuttled after widespread protests in 2012. SOPA-PIPA would have created a category of “rogue” foreign piracy sites that FAI and other companies were required to ban, which critics said could amount to an overpowered censorship tool. “That’s exactly what the content lobby has been pushing for and pushing for explicitly for years now. It’s kind of a dream scenario for a lot of them,” Rose says. “Rights holders want to be able to go to court and quickly and easily get an order that they could then present to the world that says don’t interact with this particular website.”

ISPs and other companies — or defendants — could still challenge the order. But it’s not clear that the greatest players will. AT&T declined to say whether it would challenge the decision, and Verizon did not respond to a request for comment. (Charter did not immediately respond to a more recent request.) Comcast also declined to say whether it would push back against the injunction, but offered a few more details. “We only recently learned about it and its implications and are still reviewing it,” spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said.

Rose acknowledges that it is often difficult to shut down foreign piracy sites at their source instead of trying to ban third parties from dealing with them. But “it’s a State Department problem,” she said. “There are ways to do it that follow due process, and we need to work on that.”

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