ISPs in Italy were ordered to block their customers' access to 46 streaming and torrent websites on Tuesday in what's thought to be the largest such anti-piracy operation to date.
The sites, which were blocked following a ruling by the Public Prosecutor of Rome, were accused of sharing "thousands of cinematographic works, some of them just released in theatres", according to the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian Financial Police, whose investigation led to the sites being blocked.
At the time of writing, many of the sites — which include magistreaming.net, piratestreaming.tv and watchfreemovies.ch — are still accessible from an Italian internet connection, as it's likely to take a few days before all the different ISPs in the country comply with the order. In some cases users attempting to access the blocked sites are redirected to a page displaying the Financial Police's logo and a notice that the site has been blocked due to the violation of copyright laws.
According to the prosecutor's ruling, the "perpetrators of those illegal activities make a substantial amount of money from them, given the presence on each pirate site of a number of banners".
The Guardia di Finanza said that in future, it might also look into the position of the companies that have been buying advertisements on those sites and therefore supported their illegal activities.
"For the first time we will notify the companies, some of which might not be aware of it, that their brands have been associated with illegal sites," Paolo Occhipinti, the Guardia di Finanza's Radio-communication division commander, told ZDNet. "In this way we hope to cut the pirates' main sources of income."
The Guardia di Finanza operation, called 'Publifilm', was not prompted by a claim from copyright holders.
News of the ruling comes just a few weeks before a controversial new package of copyright regulation comes into effect. The new rules, which will be in place from 31 March, will give the Italy's communications regulator AgCom the power to order ISPs to block their customers' access to sites deemed to be violating copyright laws.
ISPs will have only three working days to comply. Up until, now such a decision – such as in the case of Publifilm — could only be made by a judicial court.
A sign of what's to come
According to some observers, this latest operation might be seen as a sign of what's to come.
"It's the first time, to my knowledge, such an operation was carried out by the same special division of the Guardia di Finanza that usually works closely with AgCom," said Fulvio Sarzana, an intellectual property lawyer who was the first to report the news of the site blocking on his blog.
"This is the same division that will probably issue the blocking orders to ISPs when the new rule will come into effect."
The new regulations were approved last December after a prolonged battle, which is still raging in some quarters even now.
A group of Italian media organisations recently announced that they will challenge the law in front of regional administrative court of Lazio, Italy's highest administrative court. The organisations intend to question the watchdog's authority to determine industry regulation on such matters.