Business News Digital Labels & Publishers Legal

New York piracy ruling may set precedent for web-blocking

By | Published on Tuesday 3 May 2022


New rulings in three related piracy cases in the New York courts include a pretty wide-ranging web-blocking order, possibly setting a precedent that web-blocks are now an anti-piracy tactic available to copyright owners in the US.

Web-blocking – where internet service providers are ordered to block their users from accessing piracy sites – has become a preferred anti-piracy tactic of the music and movie industries in those countries were such blocking orders are available through the courts.

In some countries, specific new copyright laws set in place a system via which copyright owners could secure web-blocks. Meanwhile, in other countries, like the UK, the courts simply decided that blocking orders were possible under existing copyright rules.

However, in the US, web-blocking has generally not been an option for copyright owners. That’s because proposals ten years ago to introduce a specific web-blocking system into US copyright law – known as SOPA and PIPA – proved very controversial indeed and were ultimately abandoned.

Web-blocking has come up since in some US legal cases against piracy sites – and some internet companies have voluntary agreed to instigate some web-blocks when settling lawsuits.

For example, that’s happened with some of the legal action pursued by the consortium of movie producers led by Millennium Media, and in particular when settling legal action against virtual private networks or VPNs.

But following the SOPA/PIPA controversies ten years ago, music and movie companies in the US have not been able to secure web-blocks against a big long list of piracy operations, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, and especially in the UK.

That could be about to change though. Last week the New York courts issued judgements in three lawsuits filed by a number of Israeli movie and media companies against websites that make available unlicensed video content aimed at an Israeli audience, including Israelis living in the US.

The defendants –, and – failed to respond to the lawsuits, meaning the plaintiffs won by default, getting themselves some lovely damages, and an injunction ordering the three sites to stop infringing the plaintiffs’ copyrights.

However, getting damages and enforcing that injunction may prove tricky because, last week’s judgement notes, “defendants have gone to great lengths to conceal themselves and their ill-gotten proceeds from plaintiffs’ and this court’s detection, including by using multiple false identities and addresses associated with their operations and purposely-deceptive contact information for the infringing website[s]”.

So you know what the plaintiff’s really need 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 shall block access to the website[s] at any domain address known today … or to be used in the future by the defendants … by any technological means available on the ISPs’ systems. The domain addresses … shall be channeled in such a way that users will be unable to connect and/or use the website, and will be diverted by the ISPs’ DNS servers to a landing page operated and controlled by plaintiffs”.

In those countries where web-blocking orders against ISPs in relation to piracy sites are now pretty standard, the debate has shifted on to whether other internet companies should also block piracy websites and/or withdraw services from such sites. That 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 as well, ordering pretty much any kind of internet company – as well as payment processors – to stop allowing the three piracy sites from using or being accessed via their networks and platforms.

It remains to be seen if any of the internet companies affected by this order oppose it in court. When web-blocks are first introduced in any one country, affected internet companies do usually object, before ultimately falling in line. Given the significant precedent arguably set by these judgements, some sort of opposition seems likely, though we shall see.