The Federal Court has ordered several piracy websites, some defunct, to be blocked in a landmark judgment.

The two cases resulting in a joint decision handed down on Thursday were brought to the courts by Foxtel and Village Roadshow against several torrent and streaming websites, including Pirate Bay, Torrentz and IsoHunt earlier this year.

In the judgment Justice Victor Nicholas ordered Australia’s largest internet service providers to block four different torrent sites — and several of their mirror sites — within 15 business days.

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Much of the debate during the case was around how exactly the sites should be blocked, whether through URL blocking, DNS blocking or IP blocking.

Importantly, as this is the first judgment of its kind, Nicholas left that decision up to the telecommunications companies, meaning they can set up their own systems to block how they see fit.

When a person tries to access a website that has been blocked, they’ll be redirected to a landing page set up either by Roadshow or Foxtel, or by the telecommunications companies themselves. It’s unclear what the page would have on it, but it has been suggested that a page directing users to where to purchase content legitimately would be the most likely option.

The owners of the websites also have the option to appeal the block, but the decision was made by the court after carefully examining each of the websites and determining them to be predominantly for the purposes of infringing copyright.

The blocks will last for three years. If the sites are still up, then the rights holders can then apply to keep the block going within six months of the term expiring for another three-year extension.

Part of the problem with the first case is that Pirate Bay was taken offline by law enforcement during the course of the case. The court has ordered that sites that do not exist anymore will not be blocked. The mirrors that still exist will, however, be blocked.

The mirrors were the cause of much consternation for rights holders during the case. They had argued that there should be a “rolling injunction” so when sites that are blocked resurface under a new URL, they should be automatically blocked by ISPs. If new sites pop up, however, the judge ruled that the matter must return to court.

Of course, people can also just bypass the proposed blocks using virtual private networks (VPNs).

Rights holders will pay for the ISPs to block websites. Roadshow will be charged $50 per domain per ISP, equating to $200 in total for its case. Foxtel will pay $2750 for its 55 domains it sought to be blocked, plus an additional $1500 it had separately agreed to pay Optus.

There will likely be more costs, with Nicholas to hear later about the incurred costs for the cases on the ISPs and the costs to set up the systems to block the websites in the first place — although many already have the capability via the Interpol block list.

The judgments are the first tests of legislation passed in 2015 in a bid to crack down on piracy in Australia. A Department of Communications study last month found that the arrival of Netflix was having a big impact on piracy levels in Australia even without ISPs being forced to block access to piracy websites.

Roadshow co-CEO Graham Burke said at a forum in 2014 that the company had made a huge mistake in delaying the release of the Lego Movie in Australia to coincide with Australian school holidays, estimating it cost the company millions as users turned to piracy. The company made the same mistake again, with the next Lego movie, Lego Batman, being released almost two months after its US launch again to coincide with school holidays.

Roadshow is a big donor to the Coalition. Last year the party donated $176,000 to the Liberal and LNP. The company has donated close to $5 million to the two major parties since 1998. Treasurer Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield joined Roadshow executives in Queensland yesterday to announce the new Aquaman film would be shot on the Gold Coast with help of the Australian government to the tune of a $22 million tax offset. When the state Labor government attempted to take credit for the announcement, Morrison said yesterday that the Australian government was paying for it.

“It is $22 million and that is coming from the Commonwealth in the form of the rebate offset and that is a decision that has been made by the Commonwealth. It is in next Monday’s MYEFO.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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