Roadshow wins smart TV piracy website blocks

The case to block a series of domain names linked with the HD Subs Plus app being accessed via smart TV boxes has been successful.

Another successful Federal Court case by Roadshow Films has resulted in Australia's internet service providers being ordered to block 16 online locations of alleged piracy websites.

Justice Nicholas on Friday approved the block of domain names being used by smart TV boxes to access alleged copyright-infringing streaming services via apps.

"Each respondent must, within 15 business days of service of these orders, take reasonable steps to disable access to the target online locations," Nicholas J said, including by DNS blocking, IP address blocking or rerouting, URL blocking, or "any alternative technical means for disabling access".

Earlier this month, Roadshow had said it is willing to continue paying for the cost of piracy website blocks because it is in the "public interest".

Roadshow had taken aim at people making use of an app to use "illicit streaming devices" such as an Android OS set-top box, laptop, or smartphone, with the app communicating with facilitating servers through the cloud using the domain names that have now been blocked.

Severing the communication path by blocking the domain names will stop the copyright works from being accessed through the app, counsel said, with some of the channels available including the English Premier League, Bein Sports, Disney channels, BBC Worldwide, and National Geographic.

A subscription for the service costs AU$240 per year or AU$30 per month, according to Roadshow, which represented a group of film studios including Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount during the case.

One stumbling block in the hearing was that while the HD Subs Plus app was fully operational between December 2016 and December 2017, it was then updated to the "upgraded HD Subs Plus app" and, in late January, automatically upgraded to an app called Press Play Extra -- into which Roadshow could no longer "see under the hood".

"We submit the difference to be drawn is reactive to my clients serving on the operators a notice," counsel argued, despite Nicholas J in February warning Roadshow against providing "scant" evidence.

No ISPs showed up for the judgment on Friday, after last year establishing the procedure of not being present during piracy site-blocking trials.

A similar case currently before the Federal Court, brought by TVBO Productions and Television Broadcasts (TVB), was granted an additional hearing for May 2 to put together a submission in order to convince Nicholas J that the primary purpose is facilitating the infringement of copyright, after the judge remained sceptical as to whether watching a live Chinese TV broadcast amounts to copyright infringement.

The TVBO/TVB and Roadshow cases began in December 2017, with both involving smart TV boxes and how they use apps linked to app marketplaces to stream copyright-infringing content.

Earlier on Friday, Foxtel brought another piracy site-blocking case to the Federal Court, this time targeting 15 online locations involving around 27 domain names.

Previous site-blocking hearings saw content owners including Foxtel 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.

The Australian government then opened consultation on the piracy site-blocking laws in mid February, with the Department of Communications seeking feedback on the effectiveness and efficiency of the mechanism; whether the application process and injunctions are operating well; and whether any amendments are required.

According to the Department of Communications, there has been a "correlating" reduction in copyright infringement since the legislation was passed -- although this also coincides with the launch of streaming services in Australia, as noted by a previous report by the department.

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