Application for site-blocking

In 2016, the Singapore High Court ordered local Internet service providers (ISPs) to disable access to Solarmovie.ph, since this was found to be flagrantly infringing intellectual property. Internet users were previously able to download movies illegally from the site, and the orders sought thus enabled ISPs to prevent users from accessing and downloading infringing content.

While this decision marks a victory in the fight against piracy, rights owners have their work cut out for them. 'Pirate' sites often change their means of access for users to view or download infringing content, namely their domain names, URLs and IP addresses. This is essentially 'site-hopping', whereby Internet users may access infringing content, notwithstanding the existing site-blocking order.

Site-hopping tactics are common in the fast-paced and anonymous online world, and the Singapore Court will have to consider the scope of site-blocking orders and how content owners may be allowed to vary the terms of such orders to keep up with such 'pirate' sites.

Further, the Singapore Court will have to consider the costs of implementing site-blocking, and the issue as to whether the content owners or the ISPs should bear such costs.

Developments in Australia

In December 2016, the Federal Court of Australia in Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v Telstra Corporation Ltd [2016] FCA 1503 released its grounds of decision regarding similar site-blocking proceedings brought by copyright owners against Carriage Services Providers (CSPs).

The Federal Court of Australia considered:

(1) what the appropriate form of injunctions and ancillary orders relating to existing and future scope and operation of injunctions should be; and

(2) whether applicants (rights-owners) should be required to pay the CSPs’ costs of complying with injunctions and what such amounts would be.

On the first issue, the Australian Court considered whether the applicant content owners could extend the scope of site-blocking orders, by providing written notice to the respondents. If granted, the CSPs would be compelled to block access to other IP addresses, URLs and domain names not specified in the initial site-blocking order, without the content owners applying for and obtaining any further order of the Court.

The Australian Court held that whether the terms of any injunction should be varied would be for the Court to determine upon consideration of evidence, and this applied to any additional IP addresses, URLs and domain names sought to be disabled.

Regarding the second issue, the Court held that the applicants should pay the respondents’ costs of complying with site-blocking orders, whereby the compliance costs here was AUD 50 (approx. USD 38) for each domain name to be blocked.

Commentary

The recent Singapore High Court decision and the availability of site-blocking orders represents a new frontier for content owners. Going forward, the Singapore High Court will no doubt have to consider the compliance costs of site-blocking orders, and whether the site-blocking orders may incorporate mechanisms for content owners to vary the URLs, domain names and IP addresses in a cost-efficient and practical manner.