Two recent decisions – one made by the Intellectual Property Office and the other by the High Court – suggest that access to pirated content for consumers may become more difficult.

Intellectual Property Office negotiates 'anti-piracy agreement'

The Intellectual Property Office ("IPO") has overseen a recent agreement which will see search engines (including Google and Bing) and the creative industries work together to stop consumers being led to copyright infringing websites. The parties involved have signed a Voluntary Code of Practice dedicated to the demoting and removal of links to infringing content from the first page of search results. The stated aim is to reduce the visibility of infringing content in search results by 1 June 2017.

Football Association Premier League Ltd v British Telecommunications

Background

The Football Association Premier League ("FAPL") – the governing body of the Premier League football competition – sought an injunction against the six main retail internet service providers ("ISPs") in the UK requiring them to block or impede access by their customers to infringing content on streaming servers. These streaming servers delivered live streams of Premier League footage and so infringed FAPL owned content.

Although FAPL was formally the only applicant, the application was supported by several other rightholders. It was also actively supported by five of the defendants (BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky and Virgin) who had an interest in the subject matter of FAPL's rights. The remaining defendant (Talk Talk) did not support the application, but did not oppose it either.

Decision

The court ordered that a blocking injunction be granted. This was the first time a blocking order had been sought in respect of streaming servers, as opposed to specific websites. The blocking order is a 'live' blocking order which only has effect when live Premier League match footage is being broadcast.

The court reasoned that consumers were increasingly using infringing streaming servers as opposed to paid subscription services because:

  • the skill and difficulty in finding set-top boxes, media players and mobile devices apps that could connect to infringing streaming servers had fallen dramatically;
  • it was now possible to access several high-quality infringing streams;
  • a greater proportion of UK consumers believed that access to such devices and apps was lawful, than believed it was lawful to access infringing file-sharing websites andinfringing streaming servers had started to move offshore; and
  • did not cooperate with rights-holders' requests to take down infringing content promptly or at all.

What does this mean?

Whilst the FAPL v British Telecommunications case involved the application of deep-rooted principles from FAPL v Sky, it is significant that this is the first order in respect of streaming servers. This suggests that the court is willing to hold ISPs accountable to prevent access to pirated content through any means, not just via websites. In addition, the application being supported by five of the six defendants suggests that the ISPs wanted the blocking order to be granted in order to protect themselves if they subsequently blocked a live stream. Alongside the recent announcement from the IPO, it indicates that third parties are being forced to take piracy more seriously. It remains to be seen however if these measures will reduce consumers' use of pirated content.