The UK government has recently published its response to its call for views on illicit Internet Protocol Television streaming devices or “ISDs”. The government describes ISDs as “small plug and play media servers, originally designed to allow consumers to stream legitimate content”, which have been modified with software that enables users to view “illegal content through streaming websites, file lockers and BitTorrent trackers”.
The purpose of the call for views was to gather evidence to help in “targeting further interventions” and to assess the case for changes in the law. Respondents were split; some advocated for changes to the legal framework to combat the perceived risks posed by ISDs, while others took the view that the existing framework is flexible enough to deal with ISDs effectively.
Despite the polarised nature of the responses, the government has identified a number of practical options that it will consider to complement the existing tools available to combat copyright infringement. In particular, the government plans to undertake research into consumer attitudes towards the use of ISDs, deliver up to date training to Trading Standards officers and identify other means of disrupting the infringement of copyright via ISDs by working with app developers, amongst other stakeholders.
Perhaps the most intriguing proposal under consideration is the notion of “administrative site blocking”, as opposed to requiring a High Court injunction in every case. The move would mark a significant departure from the existing framework for dealing with copyright infringement of this type, under which the High Court has the power to grant blocking injunctions against Internet Service Providers to restrict access to infringing sites. The government has yet to flesh out its intended approach in this regard but the ongoing review of the legislative framework for IP enforcement is due to be completed by the end of 2019, according to the government’s Creative Industries Sector Deal. Operators of websites may have reason to fear this proposal if blocking injunctions, or measures equivalent to blocking injunctions, are no longer subject to the unique scrutiny of the High Court and instead can be applied by enforcement authorities or administrative staff without judicial oversight. Conversely, rights-holders will welcome what is likely to be a quicker and more economical means of obtaining redress against operators of infringing sites.
Ultimately, the government will need to consider these competing considerations when forming a view as to the most effective and equitable means of addressing copyrights infringement via ISDs. There are unlikely to be any meaningful changes to legislation until after the government completes its general review of IP enforcement in 2019, but it is certainly an issue worth keeping an eye on for rights-holders.