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Website blocking orders: No Time To Stream

Posted on 5 November 2021

A number of production studios, including Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros, have been granted a website blocking order by the High Court, targeting five websites based outside of the UK, but which were found to be targeting UK users and enabling them to stream unlawful content.

This latest website blocking order follows those made in March this year in relation to cyberlocker and stream-ripping websites in favour of recording companies (discussed in our article here). The Court's decision also involves an application of the principles considered in the TuneIn case (discussed here), in relation to establishing the necessary territorial link.

Background

The target websites do not themselves host the infringing content. Instead, they provide users with a vast number of links to third party websites that host the copyright-protected film and television content (either using embedded players to stream content or a 'pop-up' window), without any relevant licences being in place. They then index and categorise the links to enable users to select and access content easily. Although the websites are hosted outside of the UK, they are all available to users within the UK, and generate revenues through advertisements.

The studios' main argument was that the website operators were infringing copyright by communicating to the public copyright works owned and controlled by the studios or their affiliates. In addition, they brought a claim based on the website operators authorising infringement by their users.

The studios applied for a blocking order against the six major UK internet service providers, all of which confirmed that they did not oppose the application.

Decision

The Court was satisfied that the websites were all communicating copyright works to the public. The purpose of the sites was to provide access to such content, and it did not matter that the infringing content was hosted at a third-party location. The Court was also satisfied that there was the requisite targeting of UK users, applying the principles summarised in TuneIn: the default language of the websites was English, they provided access to English-language content, advertisements were targeted at the UK market, and the websites used sterling. There were also significant numbers of visits to the websites from the UK.

In addition, the websites were found to be authorising the infringing acts of users – indeed, they positively encouraged and facilitated it.

In order to grant a website blocking order, the Court must also consider whether it is proportionate to do so. On the basis that the public had no legitimate interest in accessing copyright works in infringement of the studios' rights, the Court considered that it was appropriate and proportionate to grant the blocking order in respect of the target websites.

With website blocking the most effective way currently for dealing with such websites (though not a completely satisfactory solution), we can expect more orders to be made with new illegal streaming websites continuing to emerge.

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