from the slippery-slope dept
In their obsessive war on piracy, the copyright industries have tried various approaches. For a while, the "three strikes and out" was popular, until it became clear that it was completely ineffectual. At the moment, the preferred method is to try to force ISPs to block access to sites holding material that infringes on copyright. The UK led the way, and has now made the whole process pretty routine, as a recent post on the TechnoLlama blog explains:
The blocking order follow a now familiar pattern established in 20th Century Fox v BT: lawyers for the film and/or music industry go to court against UK ISPs to try and obtain an injunction that will block access on those to a specific website. The subject websites are not included as co-defendants, and their guilt tends to be assumed, or dealt with separately. The websites are then blocked at the ISP level, meaning that any person who enters "www.thepiratebay.sx" into their browser will receive a notice stating that the site is not available.
The fact that it is easy to circumvent these blocks doesn't seem to worry the industry much: either the only concern is to make it hard for less tech-savvy users to access a site, or maybe a symbolic victory is all that is required. In any case, the approach is beginning to spread in Europe. For example, Switzerland is currently reviewing the operation of copyright in a digital world, and blocking content is likely to be one of the recommendations from the AGUR12 working group -- following the usual heavy-handed hints by the USTR, as TorrentFreak explains:
According to a report obtained by NZZ am Sontagg, AGUR12 have concluded that Swiss Internet service providers should be forced to delete content if hosted on Swiss-based sites. Most controversially their final report, which is now being sent to the Justice Minister, states that ISPs should display warnings when users attempt to access unauthorized content sources while "obviously illegal sites" should be rendered entirely inaccessible.
As usual, that begs the question which sites are "obviously illegal." Meanwhile, in Belgium, the authorities continue their forlorn attempt to shut down The Pirate Bay and its proxies:
The Supreme Court of Belgium has ordered local Internet providers to proactively search for Pirate Bay proxies, and block subscribers' access to these sites. The order is one of the most far-reaching decisions when it comes to website blocking based on copyright infringement grounds. A spokesperson for Belgacom, one of the largest ISP, describes the verdict as disproportionate and unacceptable.
But perhaps the most important news on the Web blocking front concerns Europe's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Austrian Supreme Court had sought guidance on whether injunctions could be brought against ISPs whose users were accessing sites that infringed on copyright. As is usually the case, before the Court of Justice hands down its opinion, a kind of pre-opinion is given by the Advocate General
(pdf), in this case Pedro Cruz Villalón. Here's his view on the situation:
In his Opinion today, Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón takes the view that the internet provider of the user of a website which infringes copyright is also to be regarded as an intermediary whose services are used by a third party -- that is the operator of the website -- to infringe copyright and therefore also as a person against whom an injunction can be granted. That is apparent from the wording, context, spirit and purpose of the provision of EU law.
This bad news that ISPs can be regarded as intermediaries is tempered slightly by the following:
The Advocate General is also of the view that it is incompatible with the weighing of the fundamental rights of the parties to prohibit an internet service provider generally and without ordering specific measures from allowing its customers to access a particular website that
The Advocate General adds one other qualification:
It is for the national courts, in the particular case, taking into account all relevant circumstances, to weigh the fundamental rights of the parties against each other and thus strike a fair balance between those fundamental rights.
This is not the final ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union itself, which could take a completely different view of things, but that is unlikely. So we can probably expect to see even more Web sites blocked in Europe at the behest of film and music companies. That's a huge pity. It imposes costs on ISPs that have nothing to do with the infringement, and it distracts copyright companies from the real solution: providing better access to legal offerings at fair prices.