15 Dec 2016

Australian internet companies forced to block torrent websites

8:43 pm on 15 December 2016

The Australian Federal Court has ordered internet companies to block five copyright-infringing websites, including torrent website The Pirate Bay.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Internet companies across the Tasman now have 15 business days to implement the blocks.

The Federal Court has allowed internet service providers (ISPs) to choose the method of blocking.

It could be DNS blocking, blocking IP addresses, URL blocking or any other technical methods which are mutually agreed to by ISPs and rights holders.

It is the first time the site-blocking laws have been used successfully in Australia, and is a win for copyright holders who have long wanted to see the end of the website.

The Federal Court handed down its judgement this afternoon, also ordering that ISPs block similar bittorrent websites Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and streaming service SolarMovie.

Once the sites are blocked, people who continue to visit the blocked sites will see a warning page informing them the site cannot be accessed.

The "landing page", as it is referred to, will be hosted by either the ISP or the rights holder.

The page will show that access has been disabled by order of the Federal Court because it "infringes or facilitates the infringement of copyright".

There is nothing in the act that discusses penalties for people who try to access the sites.

The applicants Foxtel and Village Roadshow filed their case in the Federal Court in February.

Foxtel applied to have The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, and IsoHunt blocked. Village Roadshow wanted SolarMovie to be made inaccessible in Australia.

Telstra, Optus, TPG and M2 were the major respondents.

'Criminals and scammers look out'

While the two rights holders got what they wanted in a block, the Federal Court has not ordered what is known as a "rolling injunction".

That would have allowed new websites to be added without court approval or oversight.

Instead, Foxtel or Village Roadshow will have to file and serve a new affidavit outlining the new website's domain name or IP address.

Even without the rolling injunction, Foxtel was quick to welcome the Federal Court's decision, saying it was looking forward to a reduction in online piracy.

"This judgment is a major step in both directly combating piracy and educating the public that accessing content through these sites is not OK, in fact it is theft," Foxtel chief executive Peter Tonagh said in a statement.

"This judgement gives us another tool to fight the international criminals who seek to profit from the hard work of actors, writers, directors and other creators the world over."

Village Roadshow co-chief executive Graham Burke also welcomed the decision but vowed to keep fighting.

"We will be back in court at the earliest possible moment and we'll be blocking 50 sites," he said.

"So criminals and scammers look out."

Under the ruling, copyright holders will have to pay $50 to internet companies for every domain blocked.

"We would've liked no cost, which is the case in the UK, however the judge has awarded $50 per website, per pirated website, and we think that's fair and that's reasonable," Mr Burke said.

Some enterprising internet users have found ways to get around site-blocking laws by using a VPN, which hides the user's country of origin.

But Mr Burke was confident this approach would not be popular in Australia.

"The experience overseas is not many people use VPNs because they cost money as well," he said.

"[A torrent website user would] still face the issue of dealing with viruses, scams and a pretty terrible, terrible neighbourhood so I think that should factor, but I think also when we explain to people that it's not a victimless crime, that other people lose their jobs, I think that will have an impact.

"So I don't see that as significant. I think we can address that."

In a statement, Telstra said it would comply with the Federal Court's order.

"We support flexible, fair and workable approaches to reduce online infringement and protect intellectual property," it said.

Kickass Torrents case still before courts

It has been a long, exhaustive legal process which included a multi-day hearing where ISPs and rights holders argued over costs and legal oversight.

The judgement on Foxtel and Village Roadshow's case means that only the music industry's case to have Kickass Torrents blocked remains active.

The operators of The Pirate Bay, Torrentz, TorrentHound, IsoHunt and SolarMovie were not represented, and did not appear at the Federal Court hearing.