Hong Kong media giants push piracy block

TVBO Productions and TVB are seeking to have the Australian Federal Court order ISPs to block alleged copyright-infringing websites that are accessed via specific smart TV boxes and associated apps.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Two Hong Kong-based media broadcasters have begun proceedings to have the Australian Federal Court force internet service providers (ISPs) to block a series of alleged piracy websites.

TVBO Productions and Television Broadcasts (TVB), the world's largest producers of Chinese media content, are taking aim at proprietary smart TV boxes that, when connected to a TV and the internet, have specific apps that allow users to access allegedly copyright-infringing content including television, movie, and sporting streams.

According to counsel representing TVB and TVBO, the case is similar to previous site-block orders in that the box forms the role of the PC, and the apps on the box form the role of the browser -- except that these "browsers" cannot access any other content than alleged piracy websites.

In an application to therefore block the sites that facilitate the boxes using apps to access alleged infringing content, counsel explained that there are two to three sites per box and there are seven boxes being targeted.

TVB and TVBO operate a subscription TV service in Australia and have made "substantial" losses across their customer base as a result of piracy, counsel said, adding that the corporations were forced to close operations in the UK due to the same issue.

These boxes target non-English-speaking users, counsel added, with access to Chinese and Indian content, for instance.

Justice Nicholas noted that the case will hinge on whether the primary purpose of these boxes, apps, and websites is to facilitate the infringing of copyright. He set down the case for an additional case management hearing on February 2.

The Hong Kong case largely mirrors one brought by Roadshow Films last week, with Nicholas J suggesting that the hearings occur on consecutive days.

Roadshow -- which leads a group of film studios including Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount -- is similarly seeking to have an alleged piracy-facilitating streaming app and associated website blocked by Australia's ISPs, saying that smart TV boxes facilitate copyright infringement.

Cook, counsel for Roadshow, pointed towards the HD Subs app that can be used with the device, which facilitates streaming at a subscription cost of between $35 and $240.

The app itself isn't doing the streaming; it's an interface that allows the streaming to occur, Cook said. It enables access to live cable TV channels such as the BBC and on-demand content including TV series and movies, he claimed.

No ISPs were present for either proceedings after earlier this year establishing the procedure of not being present during piracy site-blocking hearings, although Roadshow was granted a "Christmas" directions hearing for Friday.

Previous site-blocking hearings have seen content owners successfully seek blocks against Kickass Torrents, the Pirate Bay, and more than 200 additional alleged piracy sites.

Under the initial ruling, rights holders are to pay a AU$50 fee per domain they want to block, with the websites to be blocked within 15 business days.

Website blocking was legislated under the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act, which passed both houses of Parliament in mid-2015 and allows rights holders to obtain a court order to block websites hosted overseas that are deemed to exist for the primary purpose of infringing or facilitating infringement of copyright under Section 115A.

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