Federal Court Orders ‘All’ ISPs to Block Film-Piracy Websites — Setting An Interesting Precedent for the Music Industry

Record Label lawyers
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Record Label lawyers
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In a ruling that could prove significant for the music industry, a federal court has officially ordered internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to multiple television- and film-piracy websites.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla just recently rendered the corresponding judgement in a trio of orders, specifically calling on “all” ISPs – 96 of which, Verizon, AT&T, Spectrum, and Cox Communications among them, are listed in the filing – to blacklist israeli-tv.com, sdarot.com, and israel.tv.

Plaintiffs including United King Film Distribution and Keshet Broadcasting, “movie, television, sports and news content producers and providers in Israel,” served the defendant piracy websites with an amended complaint back in late January, according to legal documents.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs – who “own a valid U.S. copyright registration in each of at least 51 original works, and at least 273 unregistered works” – maintained that the defendant websites had “been re-broadcasting and streaming” the content at hand. This media included Hebrew-language programming “produced and owned by” the plaintiffs, besides works from “major” U.S. studios and licensed “for broadcasting exclusively in Israel.”

But as none of the defendants responded to or “otherwise appeared in this action,” the court slapped them with a $7.65 million damages bill for copyright infringement as well as “pre-judgment interest on all monetary relief,” at nine percent, from late December onward.

Additionally, the defendants have been permanently enjoined from offering access to the plaintiffs’ protected media or otherwise infringing upon the content in question.

That said, the court also acknowledged that the defendant websites’ owners had “gone to great lengths to conceal themselves and their ill-gotten proceeds…including by using multiple false identities and addresses associated with their operations and purposely-deceptive contact information.”

Of course, it’s not uncommon for piracy websites (or substantially similar platforms, owned by the same parties) to pop back up after facing legal action. And on this front, the presiding judge has taken aim at ISPs themselves in an effort to keep the defendant platforms off the web altogether, as mentioned at the outset.

“All ISPs (including without limitation those set forth in Exhibit B hereto) and any other ISPs providing services in the United States shall block access to the Website at any domain address known today (including but not limited to those set forth in Exhibit A hereto) or to be used in the future by the Defendants (“Newly-Detected Websites”) by any technological means available on the ISPs’ systems,” the court made clear.

Not stopping at ISPs, however, the judge likewise said that “third parties providing services used in connection with Defendants’ operations” – encompassing “web hosting providers,” “VPN service providers,” “web designers,” and even banks, to name just some – “are hereby permanently enjoined from providing services to the” piracy websites.

Driving the point home, the judge ordered banks and related financial institutions to “restrain all accounts belonging to or controlled by” the defendants and then “transfer all monies in the restrained accounts” to the plaintiffs after 30 days “unless the Defendant has filed with the Court and served upon Plaintiffs’ counsel a request that such monies be exempted from this Order.”

Registrars and registries, for their part, have been ordered to transfer to the rightsholders all the defendants’ current domain names and “any Newly-Detected Websites.”

It’s hardly a secret that the music industry has invested many millions of dollars in attempting to eliminate stream-ripping platforms, fake-stream providers, and related websites. But in the U.S., even massive judgements against these platforms haven’t yet included comprehensive orders for ISPs (and others) to block piracy sites; the British High Court in March of 2021 did instruct ISPs to block several stream-rippers, though.

In the approaching months and years, it’ll be interesting to see whether the move becomes a common component of judgements in similar stateside cases.