New York hacking ruling could set precedent for web blocking

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By Chris Cooke | Posted on Tuesday, May 3, 2022

New rulings in three related piracy cases in New York courts include a fairly broad web blocking order, perhaps setting a precedent that web blocks are now an available anti-piracy tactic for copyright owners author in the United States.

Web blocking – where internet service providers are required to prevent their users from accessing piracy sites – has become a favorite anti-piracy tactic of the music and film industries in countries where such piracy orders blocking are available from the courts.

In some countries, specific new copyright laws have put in place a system through which copyright owners could secure web blocks. Meanwhile, in other countries, such as the UK, courts have simply decided that blocking orders are possible under existing copyright rules.

However, in the United States, web blocking has generally not been an option for copyright owners. Indeed, ten years ago, proposals to introduce a specific web-blocking system into US copyright law – known as SOPA and PIPA – proved highly controversial and were eventually abandoned.

Web blocking has since appeared in some US court cases against piracy sites – and some internet companies have voluntarily agreed to initiate web blocks when settling lawsuits.

For example, this has happened with some of the lawsuits filed by the consortium of film producers led by Millennium Media, and in particular when settling a lawsuit against virtual private networks or VPNs.

But following the SOPA/PIPA controversies a decade ago, music and movie companies in the United States have been unable to secure web blocks against a long list of piracy operations, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, and in particular in the United Kingdom.

That might be about to change though. New York courts last week handed down judgments in three lawsuits brought by a number of Israeli film and media companies against websites that make available unlicensed video content aimed at Israeli audiences, including Israelis living in the United States.

The defendants – Israel-tv.com, Israel.tv and Sdarot.tv – did not respond to the lawsuits, meaning the plaintiffs won by default, winning handsome damages and an injunction ordering the three sites to cease infringing the rights of complainants. Copyright.

However, obtaining damages and enforcing this injunction can be tricky because, according to last week’s judgment, “the defendants went to great lengths to conceal themselves and their ill-gotten proceeds from the plaintiffs and the detection of this court, including using multiple false identities and addresses associated with their operations and deliberately misleading contact information for the infringing website[s]”.

So you know what the applicant really needs here? A web blocking order against US ISPs. And that’s what they got. “It is further ordered that all ISPs…providing services in the United States block access to the website[s] to any domain address known today… or to be used in the future by Defendants… by any technological means available on the ISPs’ systems. The domain addresses … will be routed in such a way that users cannot log in and/or use the website, and will be diverted by ISP DNS servers to a landing page operated and controlled by the complainants”.

In countries where web blocking orders against ISPs regarding hacked sites are now quite common, the debate has shifted to whether other internet companies should also block hacked websites and/or take down services of these sites. This includes the aforementioned VPNs as well as DNS resolvers, both of which can be used to circumvent web blocks put in place by ISPs.

Well, last week’s court order covers all that, too, ordering just about any type of internet company – as well as payment processors – to stop allowing the three hacking sites to use or access through their networks and platforms.

It remains to be seen whether any of the internet companies affected by this order will oppose it in court. When web blocks are first introduced in a country, the internet companies affected usually oppose them, before finally toe-in on the line. Given the important precedent no doubt set by these judgments, some sort of opposition seems likely, although we shall see.



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