Rights-holders taking down legitimate sites in piracy crackdown

14 Aug 2013
Filtering

Legitimate sites are being caught up in rights-holders attempts to take down pirate websites

Mandatory blocks on file-sharing sites have led to the first cases of "overblocking" in the UK - and rights-holders are to blame, according to industry sources.

Virgin Media and Sky-owned Be Broadband customers found they were unable to access the Radio Times website last week, after the ISPs’ anti-piracy filters included the site by accident. Telefonica, which still runs Be Broadband's network said that the overblocking had actually affected around 200 legitimate websites.

Originally, it was thought that the Radio Times block was another instance of banned file-sharing site, EZTV, adding legitimate site addresses to its DNS records in a bid to fool the filters.

Change log

This article was updated on 15 August with Telefonica’s response, BT's response, EE's response and details of the court order won by the Premier League

Shared IP addresses

But a source with knowledge of the situation has told PC Pro the block was actually due to the separate problem of shared IP addresses – and that rights-holders were to blame.

The major ISPs - TalkTalk, BT, Virgin, EE and Sky - are legally obliged to block their customers from accessing sites that point to copyright-infringing sites following recent court orders, such as the Pirate Bay and EZTV.

Under the orders, rights-holders must furnish the ISPs with lists of IP addresses and URLs they want blocked. The ISPs must then ensure those sites are filtered.

Rights-holders are free to update their original blacklists with new entries and can force ISPs to block proxy sites without further orders.

According to the source, the rights-holders failed to check whether some infringing IP addresses were also shared by innocent sites – meaning radiotimes.com but not www.radiotimes.com – was caught up in the block.

Premier League block

After being contacted by PC Pro, Telefonica and BT confirmed the issue and revealed that the rights holder responsible was the Premier League, which recently won a court order to block livestreaming site FirstRow. Both providers confirmed that it was up to the Premier League - or any rights holder - to check whether it had provided the correct IP addresses.

"Under the terms of the court order to block First Row Sports, it is the Premier League’s responsibility to provide BT with IP addresses to block that relate only to First Row Sports," said BT.

"The Premier League is currently looking into whether the IP addresses provided to BT included any IP addresses that related to radiotimes.com. BT has suspended blocking of the IP addresses in question in the meantime," said the company.

Both Virgin and EE said they were aware of the issue and had lifted the IP address block. TalkTalk said it hadn't received any reports of any accidental blocks, and was unable to comment on the IP address-sharing issue.

According to the court order, the Premier League provided reassurances that blocking the IP address for FirstRow's domain name "will not result in over-blocking since that IP address is not shared".

The Premier League didn't respond to a request for comment.

This is the first time a shared IP address has resulted in a legitimate site being blocked after a court order, and highlights key loopholes in the blocking process, said campaigners.

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