U.S. Court Orders Pirate Site Blocking. Internet Should Break Any Day Now.

And if it did, really at this point…?

As reported on TorrentFreak yesterday, the District Court for the Southern District of New York handed down three nearly identical rulings in copyright infringement complaints against three pirate streaming entities. Finding for the plaintiffs, who comprised several Israeli film and entertainment companies, there was nothing remarkable about the outcome of the decisions but for one feature. The pirate site owners, who did not defend themselves or appear in court, lost by default judgment, and the plaintiffs were awarded statutory damages to the maximum $150k per infringement for a total of over $23 million for all three suits.

But Andy Maxwell at TF is right that what is unique about these decisions is the district court’s order to all U.S. ISPs, which states the following:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all ISPs (including without limitation those set forth in Exhibit B hereto) and any other ISPs providing services in the United States shall block access to the Website at any domain address known today (including but not limited to those set forth in Exhibit A hereto) or to be used in the future by the Defendants (“Newly-Detected Websites”) by any technological means available on the ISPs’ systems.

In other words, site blocking—a form of injunctive relief that has been applied in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other democratic countries (without breaking the internet), but which has historically not been so vigorously applied in the U.S. as this order demands. Stay tuned for wailing and gnashing of teeth from the internet industry and the usual network of “digital rights” groups proclaiming this decision a disaster in the battle for internet freedom and the speech right. And as Andy forecasts, we will likely hear renewed incantations of the acronym SOPA. “More than a decade after U.S. lawmakers scuttled the controversial SOPA legislation that would’ve required ISPs to block pirate sites, a US court has demonstrated that the ability to block sites has been available all along.” he writes in his intro.

And that’s not entirely without merit. One reasonable criticism of the SOPA/PIPA legislation was to ask whether it was somewhat redundant in light of the fact that injunctive relief of this nature was and is already available to the courts. Ordering an unnamed third party in a complaint to cease facilitating harmful conduct is not groundbreaking law, which is one reason why all the shouting about that legislation ten years ago was so ridiculous.

Still, stay tuned for the Knights Who Say SOPA to say SOPA once again in the hope of frightening people into believing that blocking access to a few criminal websites will lead to the death of the “open internet.” And this makes me think of a twist on another Monty Python routine, only in this case, the irony is a bit different. Because what has the “open internet” done for us other than conspiracy theory run amok, teenage suicide and depression, help turn America’s conservative party into a religious cult, allow rampant data leaks, aid an coup d’etat by a U.S. President, destroy the right of privacy, violent insurrection at the Capitol, novel ways to harass women, and battering the Fourteenth Amendment to a rhetorical pulp? Other than all that, what has the open internet done for us? Cue Michael Palin: “You can wish people Happy Birthday.”

I know. There are some other benefits, even on social platforms, and I use them myself. But the funny thing is that we can have those benefits without the lawless free-for-all bullshit promoted under the banner of “openness.” In the meantime, site blocking a few pirate sites? Bring it on.

David Newhoff
David is an author, communications professional, and copyright advocate. After more than 20 years providing creative services and consulting in corporate communications, he shifted his attention to law and policy, beginning with advocacy of copyright and the value of creative professionals to America’s economy, core principles, and culture.

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