War on piracy expands to subtitle downloads

Previously anti-piracy law has only been used to block movie and TV downloads

A group of entertainment companies is preparing to argue that Australian ISPs should block four websites that provide downloadable subtitle files.

The application for a Federal Court injunction is the first where subtitle services have been specifically targeted. A case management hearing today heard that Addic7ed, Yifysubtitles, Opensubtitles.org, Subscene don’t offer access to movie or TV show downloads or streaming – instead they make available SubRip (.srt) files that can be used in conjunction with illicitly downloaded movie files to display subtitles.

The four services are part of a group of 77 online services and more than 150 domains targeted by the application for injunction – making it the largest single site-blocking application brought under Australia’s anti-piracy laws. 

Although Federal Court injunctions ordering telcos to block overseas-based websites associated with piracy have now become largely routine, there are several novel elements to the current matter in addition to the question of subtitle downloads. One is that for the first time, Vodafone is listed as a respondent.

Previously, Vocus, Telstra, TPG and Optus have been the main targets for site-blocking injunctions. The Copyright Act provisions under which the injunctions are sought apply only to fixed-line connections (although Optus and Telstra have both blocked access to sites via their mobile services). Vodafone in late 2017 launched its first fixed-line services.

The second notable feature of the current case is the large coalition of entertainment companies supporting the application.

Along with lead applicant Village Roadshow Films and a group of film studios — Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal, Warner Bros — the application is supported by Hong Kong company Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) and Australia-based entertainment distributor Madman Entertainment Pty Limited.

Roadshow, along with pay TV company Foxtel, was one of the first companies to take advantage of 2015 legislation that allows rights holders to seek Federal Court injunctions that force telcos to take reasonable steps to block their customers from accessing overseas-based online services linked to piracy.

It’s not TVB’s first site-blocking tango, either. The Hong Kong broadcaster in September was granted an injunction blocking services associated with a number of Android-based set-top boxes. Roadshow, too, has targeted set-top box streaming, and earlier this year obtained orders forcing major ISPs to block access to the ‘HDSubs+’ Android app.

Madman Entertainment Pty Limited, however, has not previously participated in a site-blocking application.

Justice Nicholas, who is presiding over the application, sought details from the applicants about the nature of the subtitle download services and indicated that he expects the hearing of the case to focus on those sites.

As with previous cases, the judge will be provided with a laptop and secure Internet connection in order to examine the sites, in an effort to reduce the length of the eventual hearing.

Justice Nicholas asked for “some indication” from the applicants of how they will satisfy the “primary purpose” requirement of Section 115a of the Copyright Act, the legislation that facilitates the site blocks, in relation to the subtitle sites.

Under Section 115a, an online service must have as its primary purpose infringing or facilitating infringement of copyright. Roadshow said that the sites in question have no evident purpose other than providing subtitles that can be used in conjunction with illicitly downloaded movie files. 

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Tags copyrightpiracy

More about AustraliaColumbia PicturesFoxtelMadman EntertainmentnbnOptusParamount PicturesTwentieth Century FoxVillage RoadshowVodafoneWarner Bros

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