How Australia’s Pirate Site Blocking Actually Works

How Australia’s Pirate Site Blocking Actually Works
Image: Getty Images

Last week, the Federal Court of Australia directed 49 ISPs to block access to websites that are engaged in providing pirated TV shows and movies. The action launched by Foxtel is all about curbing access to some of its centrepiece shows such as Game of Thrones and Wentworth. But what does the ruling mean and will it have wider repercussions?

The Federal Court judgement specifically lists a number of torrent sites, that the ruling calls “target online locations”. These are:

  • HDO
  • HDEuropix
  • 123Hulu
  • Watch32
  • Sockshare
  • NewEpisodes
  • 1Movies
  • 5Movies
  • WatchFreeMovies
  • SeriesTop
  • ETTV
  • MagnetDL
  • Torrent Download
  • Torrent Room
  • Torrents

This list is in addition to another 20 online services blocked last year.

While the judgement is titled “Foxtel Management Pty Ltd v TPG Internet Pty Ltd [2018] FCA 933”, it refers to Vocus, Optus and Telstra as well as TPG.

The ruling says that the ISPs must respond within 15 days of a request to disable access to those sites either through DNS blocking, IP Address blocking or rerouting, or URL blocking. And if those don’t work, they can come up with “alternative technical means for disabling access” although that requires a written agreement between Foxtel and the ISP being asked to do the blocking.

If a site is blocked, Foxtel needs to establish and maintain a webpage which explains that access has been disabled as per the court’s ruling. And if a site that has been blocked changes their ways and no longer supports access to licensed content without permission, the block can be removed.

Back in March, Village Roadshow CEO Graham Burke wrote a letter to the Department of Communication and the Arts saying “Australia needs the power to require Google and other search engines to take reasonable steps to stop facilitating searches which lead to pirate sites”.

Of course, in the same letter he also said “access facilitated by Google means kids are crossing to the dark side and getting lured into bad habits and taken to criminal neighbourhoods that proliferate with prostitution, pornography, drug selling and illegal gambling”.

All that aside, the main arguments made by people accessing licensed content without paying for it were cost and ease of access. Services such as Foxtel, which has reduced prices over the past year, Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime and others have done a lot to mitigate those problems.

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In my opinion, this ruling by the Federal Court is a good thing. Shows like Game of Thrones cost a lot of money to make and if we don’t pay for them the production values will diminish or we’ll simply have fewer shows being made. In his at times hysterical letter, Burke did make the point that the “Australian film Lion has been illegally downloaded 331,000 times and based on research likely streamed 600,000 times”.

And while not all of those people would have gone to the cinema, they might have streamed it legally or purchased a DVD or Blu-ray copy. Those unlicensed streams will cost the makers of Lion revenue which could have been used to fund another great movie.

For many people, these blocks will have little effect. Data from Screen Australia shows that we are becoming a nation of streamers with on-demand services Netflix, Stan and free-to-air catchup services all growing while traditional TV is in decline.

Will there Federal Court’s action change how you access digital content? Have streaming services diminished the need for sites that simplify unlicensed access?

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  • Once all the TV and movies are available in Australia in a timely fashion at a reasonable monthly subscription price (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) there will still be a problem of usability due to exclusive distribution deals. To watch Game of Thrones, you have to go through the Foxtel interface, while The Good Place is only on Netflix, etc. Not only do you need to subscribe to every service, but you get a lot of friction in the user experience – changing services to watch a different show is always going to suck next to piracy. Besides access to content, we need excellent content-first user interfaces that hide the specifics of each streaming service subscription.

  • Burke did make the point that the “Australian film Lion has been illegally downloaded 331,000 times and based on research likely streamed 600,000 times”.

    Just by Australians or world wide? Considering the site blocks are specific to Aussies they’re not going to stop other people round the world viewing it.

    And that’s before we get to questions like how did they measure the downloads? Are they complete or partial, are they definitely unique or could there be double ups in the count.

  • i mean who gives a fuck right. change ur DNS / get a proxy and do whatever the fuck you want. Im just intrigued there is a torrent website literally just called torrents 🙂

  • Isn’t there a conflict of interest between a content provider like Foxtel who also provides an ISP service and other ISPs? Especially allowing Foxtel to be an arbiter as to what technological methods outside those listed are permitted to be used to block these sites by other ISPs?

  • This may be way too simplistic (and I look forward to the haters!) but couldn’t all ISP’s put aside 0.01% (pick a number) of their revenue towards royalties for these production companies and then let everyone access as much content as they like as part of the cost of their internet connection…..?

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