Apr 11, 2024 3 min read

Hollywood movie studios aim to put web-blocking back on the agenda in US Congress

Web-blocking is now the music industry’s anti-piracy tactic of choice in countries where it is available. However, web-blocking is still not an option in the US, where attempts to add it to copyright law in 2012 resulted in a major backlash. Hollywood thinks it is time for Congress to reconsider

Hollywood movie studios aim to put web-blocking back on the agenda in US Congress

The boss of the US Motion Picture Association announced in a speech this week that getting web-blocking into American copyright law is now a priority again. 

He added that none of the doom and gloom predictions made the last time this was discussed in US Congress have come to pass in the numerous countries where web-blocking is now an anti-piracy tactic available to copyright owners. 

Speaking at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, MPA CEO Charles Rivkin hailed the launch of “the next major phase” of the Hollywood trade group’s anti-piracy work, stating, “the MPA is going to work with members of Congress to enact judicial site-blocking legislation here in the United States”.

Web-blocking allows copyright owners to secure injunctions in court that force internet companies, usually internet service providers, to block access to piracy websites. They have become an anti-piracy tactic of choice for both music and movie companies in those countries where they are available. 

Proposals to make web-blocks available in US copyright law back in 2011 and 2012 resulted in a major backlash from the internet sector, with Wikipedia taking its English language content offline for 24 hours in protest. The proposals were quickly abandoned by Congress members in the wake of those protests, and US politicians have been nervous about revisiting them ever since. 

That said, behind the scenes the MPA has been seeking to get web-blocking back on the agenda in the US for some time, arguing that since 2012 web-blocks have been introduced in numerous other countries - including the UK - and that hasn’t resulted in any of the problems critics of the proposals raised. 

Rivkin told CinemaCon, “Back then, we heard claims that site-blocking would ‘break the internet’. Well, I’m not sure if anyone’s noticed, but even after site-blocking became commonplace around the world, the internet is doing just fine”.

“Back then, we heard concerns about the potential use of site-blocking to stifle free speech”, he added. “Well, that’s something we take seriously in an industry that embraces an unflinching commitment to the First Amendment. But again, real-world experience proved those dire predictions wrong. Examples of free speech violations are practically non-existent. Safeguards exist to ensure the protection of everyone’s legal rights”. 

In most countries where web-block injunctions are now common, the ISPs have generally accepted web-blocking on copyright grounds as a routine part of doing business. Although there remain plenty of critics of the anti-piracy approach. 

Most criticism today centres on the argument that web-blocking doesn’t really work, because a Google search will tell people how to get around the blockades, including by using a VPN or third-party DNS resolver. That has resulted in copyright owners in some countries seeking to get web-blocking orders against VPNs and DNS resolvers too. 

In Europe, that has led to legal battles between music companies and DNS resolvers Quad9 and Cloudflare's In Germany, Sony Music took on Quad9 and Universal Music Although Sony initially had some success in court, more recent judgements have concluded that because a DNS resolver is a “mere conduit” in the process of accessing a website, it is not liable to instigate web-blocks. 

So, as the MPA becomes more up front in its demands on US politicians in this domain, we can expect a new round of pushback. 

Nevertheless, Rivkin concluded, “We can get this done - and do it right. And even if Members of Congress can’t seem to agree on much these days, surely they can find common ground on action to protect American businesses, defend American workers, and strengthen our public safety. It’s long past time to bring our laws in line with the rest of the world”.

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