The Commercial Court (a division of the High Court) has ordered nine Irish internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to three websites that provide internet users with free unauthorised access to commercially-produced motion pictures and television series. The three websites are primewire.ag, movie4k.to and onwatchseries.to as well as their related domain names, IP addresses and URLs (Websites).

Why is this case so important?

This was a landmark case for the film industry. Although previous website blocking applications have been brought in Ireland by the music industry, this was the first application by the motion picture and television industry.

Who are the plaintiffs?

The plaintiffs are eight well-known major film and television studios, namely, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal City Studios Productions LLLP, Universal Cable Productions LLC, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, Disney Enterprises Inc., Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. and Sony Pictures Television Inc. (Studios). Beauchamps represented the Studios in this case.

Who are the defendants?

The ISPs are the major internet service providers in Ireland, having a combined market share of around 90%. None of the ISPs opposed the application and each adopted a neutral stance.

What are the criteria to grant the injunction?

In order to grant the website blocking injunction under Irish copyright legislation, the High Court had to satisfy itself that:

  1. there was an infringement of the Studios’ copyright
  2. the granting of the order would not interfere with the lawful use of the internet
  3. the granting of the order would be proportionate.

The Court was satisfied that all three criteria were satisfied in the current case.

The Court also had to consider the criteria specified in the Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive 2004/48, namely that:

  • the order must be fair and equitable
  • it must not be unnecessarily complicated or unnecessarily costly
  • it should not involve unreasonable time limits or unwarranted delays
  • it should be effective and dissuasive
  • it should not constitute a barrier to legitimate trade and
  • it should have appropriate safeguards against abuse.

The Court was satisfied that the blocking order sought fulfilled all of the criteria.

No costs order was made as the Court considered this appropriate in these types of applications.

Why was a cap on IP address notification denied?

One of the ISPs asked the Court to place a cap on the number of domain names and IP addresses that could be notified by the Studios on a monthly basis. The Studios vigorously argued against the imposition of a cap on the basis that it would be unrealistic and that the effectiveness of the order would be affected the inclusion of a cap. The Court agreed and no cap was imposed.

How will this judgment impact the film industry in Ireland?

The outcome of the case will be welcome news to those in the motion picture industry in Ireland because online copyright infringement causes substantial damage and has a detrimental effect on the industry in Ireland, as well as independent producers, distributors and studios. According to research carried out by Grant Thornton, it is estimated that 500 jobs were lost in 2015 in Ireland as a result of digital piracy, with €320 million lost in revenue due to digital piracy.

Unlawfully making available copyright protected works destroys the constitutional and intellectual property rights of creative artists. Therefore it is important that such rights are fully protected and defended because the loss of cultural creativity will be immense and incalculable, not only to the creative artists but to society as a whole.