The operator of an online service dedicated to Greek-language movies and TV series has opposed an attempt by a group of entertainment companies to compel Australian ISPs block access to his site.
A group of nine entertainment companies currently has an application before the Federal Court of Australia that seeks to have Telstra, Optus, Vocus, TPG and Vodafone block customers of their broadband services from accessing 79 online locations (and 99 associated domains).
The application says that the target sites (full details of which were previously published by Computerworld) enable unauthorised streaming or downloads of a range of films, or they provide links to other services that offer such services.
All of the companies involved — Village Roadshow, US film studios Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros., and Australian distributor Madman — have previously been successful in obtaining website-blocking injunctions under Australian anti-piracy laws.
Under the Copyright Act, injunctions seeking to block an overseas-based service allegedly engaged in or facilitating copyright infringement are brought against individual providers of telecommunications services in Australia. By default the operators of the sites themselves are not parties to the proceedings, although they can apply to join.
Applicants are required to attempt to notify the operators of the target online locations of their intention to seek an injunction, however. In previous site-blocking cases, copyright holders have indicated they have received only perfunctory responses, if any, to their communications about the launch of legal proceedings.
However, the presiding judge in the current proceedings, Justice Nicholas, yesterday revealed at a case management hearing that he had received a letter from Socrates Dimitriadis, the operator of Greek-Movies.com — one of the target online locations.
In the letter, which has been sighted by Computerworld, Dimitriadis says that his site “does not host, or publish in any other form, any kind of copyright material whatsoever”.
“My site is just a search engine that refers users to third-party websites,” he writes.
Dimitriadis, an assistant professor at George Mason University’s Department Of Computer Science, said that the site has operated for 13 years and “has always abided by the law”.
“Although there were similar false accusations in the past, by companies that are much bigger than the applicants in this case, none of them has ever been substantiated in any court,” the letter stated.
In his letter Dimitriadis cited four cases brought against his site in Greece by the Company for Protection of Audiovisual Works, which he told Computerworld represented seven of the nine applicants in the Australian case (all except Disney and Madman).
In his letter he said that “all courts have made the same judgment, that the allegations against Greek-Movies are completely false, and confirmed that the site complies with the law.”
Dimitriadis said Justice Nicholas should reject the attempt to block his site.
“Your Honour, I wish I could be present in the hearing to provide more details and answer all your questions,” he wrote. “But unfortunately, behind Greek-Movies is just a small personal business, and I cannot afford traveling all over the world whenever a false accusation is made against my site.”
Greek-Movies.com links to a range of Greek-language movies and TV series. In some cases those sites include online services accused of being associated with piracy, but in others it links to the official streaming services of Greek free-to-air TV stations and YouTube.
Previous site-blocking cases in Australia have involved some services dubbed ‘linking online locations’, which Justice Nicholas in a 2017 judgement described as a location that acts “as an index of hyperlinks to content located elsewhere”.
“These hyperlinks redirect the user to a separate host site from which content can be streamed or downloaded,” the judgement stated.
That injunction blocked 34 such sites.
Another category blocked in that case was ‘linking searching online locations’ which the judge wrote were “similar to Linking Online Locations but differ in that they also provide indexes of other linking websites and sometimes enable users to search the indexes of those other websites”.
The current application for injunction argues that the target online locations the entertainment companies want blocked have as their “primary purpose” the infringement of facilitation of infringement of copyright.
The ability to block a site that has the “primary effect” of facilitating piracy was part of a major expansion of Australia’s anti-piracy laws last year. That legislation also enabled copyright owners to obtain injunctions forcing search engine operators to remove links to pirate sites; however, those provisions are yet to be employed.
Appearing for the applicants, barrister Frances St John yesterday told Justice Nicholas she would address the letter in her submissions.
The case is scheduled to be heard in May.
In 2018 the group of entertainment companies, along with Hong Kong’s Television Broadcasts Limited and Tokyo Broadcasting System Television, obtained an injunction that forced telcos to block their customers from accessing around 150 domains associated with online piracy.
A separate site-blocking action by a group of major music labels is also before the court. It seeks to block four ‘stream-ripping’ services that enable users to download the audio tracks of YouTube videos.
That application takes advantage of the provisions added to Australian copyright law in 2018. The labels argue that the four services they are seeking to block have as either their “primary purpose” or “primary effect” the infringement of copyright or the facilitation of the infringement of copyright.