By Ann O’Loughlin
An association representing some of the worlds biggest TV and movie studios has secured a High Court injunction to block several websites involved in the downloading of films and television shows.
The injunction was granted at the Commercial Court today by Mr Justice Brian McGovern who said he was satisfied the websites in question had engaged in widespread infringement of the TV and movies studios copyright.
The were "significant public interest grounds" to grant the orders sought, the Judge said.
The orders, under the 2000 Copyright and Related Act, were sought by the Motion Pictures Association, which represents Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Universal, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney, Columbia and Sony Pictures. They claimed the sites were breaching their copyright.
The proceedings were brought against Ireland’s main Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Eircom, Sky Ireland, Vodafone Ireland, Virgin Media Ireland, Three Ireland, Digiweb, Imagine Telecommunications and Magnet Networks.
None of the Internet Service Providers opposed the application.
The Association had sought the orders on grounds including that up to 1.5m users in Ireland may be involved in illegally accessing their films on one of the websites.
The websites blocked include ’GoMovies’ located at 123movieshub.to, ’Rarbg’ located at rarbg.to, ’EZTV’ located at extv.ag, and ’Watchfree’ currently located at gowatchfreemovies.to.
Some of the websites streamed movies via the internet and have been providing users with an extensive library of unauthorised copies of content.
The other websites distributed movies and films through the internet used via peer to peer file sharing.
Jonathan Newman SC for the group said its members represent 80% of the world’s box office takings in Ireland and the UK in 2018.
The sites had offered for viewing many movies and programmes which were the copyright of his client’s members.
Counsel said the Association was concerned because the sites had "very substantial numbers" of users in Ireland. Movies and programmes on one of the sites had been viewed between 1.5m and 1.3m times, counsel said.
Those behind the websites had hidden anything to do with their identities or their physical location, Counsel said.
Correspondence was sent from the Associations lawyers to the sites, via e mail, concerning the copyright infringements, but no responses had been received, counsel said.
He added similar orders have been granted by the Irish courts in relation to other sites that had been involved in such activities.
Counsel said such orders have proven to be effective in other jurisdictions and there was clear evidence the orders sought are "dissuasive, effective and proportional" in countering copyright infringement.
Mr Justice McGovern, after admitting the matter to the fast track commercial court list, granted orders requiring the Internet service Providers to block or disable access by subscribers to a number of websites.
The Judge said there was a significant public interest in granting the orders.
This was to protect the livelihoods of those whose copyright was being infringed, and the safeguard the business of companies involved in the legitimate distribution of such material, the Judge added.
Responding to the ruling this afternoon the Motion Picture Association (MPA) welcomed the decision "to block eight illegal pirate websites that facilitate the distribution of stolen film and television content to consumers in Ireland."
In a statement the MPA said the ruling followed a successful blocking action taken by MPA members against three of the most visited pirate sites last year and is part of an ongoing concerted global effort to curb the effects of digital piracy on the creative industries.
The group revealed that investigations into the prevalence of digital piracy in Ireland found that the eight websites targeted by the most recent blocking action received a minimum estimated total of 6,334,215 visits that emanated from Ireland in October 2017 alone. Most of the sites involved in today’s ruling have already been blocked in several other jurisdictions including the UK, Norway, Austria and Denmark.
The companies involved in this action include Warner Bros. Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Disney, Universal Studios and Sony/Columbia Pictures. They were supported by independent distributors and filmmakers in Ireland.
Stan McCoy, MPA EMEA President and Managing Director, said that today’s ruling was another crucial step in ensuring that Irish consumers have access to completely safe and legal content and protecting the livelihoods of those working in the TV and film industries both in Ireland and around the world.
“As the Irish film industry is continuing to thrive, the MPA is dedicated to supporting that growth by combatting the operations of illegal sites that undermine the sustainability of the sector.
“Preventing these pirate sites from freely disturbing other people’s work will help us provide greater job security for the 18,000 people employed through the Irish film industry and ensure that consumers can continue to enjoy high quality content in the future.”
David Burke, Chairman of the Industry Trust for IP Awareness, Ireland, said that informing consumers about the serious nature of the problems caused by pirated content is vital.
“While enjoying a film, it is easy to overlook that a significant amount of time, effort and expense goes into every frame. This is why it is so important to engage with film and TV audiences to let them know that by choosing to pay for content, they are supporting a network of highly dedicated professionals who rely on the audience for their livelihoods.”
Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures, said he was pleased to see the film industry taking a proactive approach to protect Irish and international film content.
Dublin-based Element Pictures is a leading independent production and distribution film company whose award-winning productions include Lenny Abrahamson’s Academy Award and Golden Globe winning ‘Room’, ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’, ‘The Lobster’ (winner of the Jury Prize in Cannes, the IFTA-winning ‘Frank’, ‘What Richard Did’, ‘Garage’, ‘Adam & Paul’, ‘The Guard’ and ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’.
Mr Lowe said: “This ruling is another important step in ensuring that those involved in the creation of film and TV content receive a fair return on their work. This benefits filmmakers and their audiences alike as a fair return on investment means that we can provide greater levels of choice and quality to film-lovers.
“Websites that freely distribute content without sharing any of the cost or risk of production damage our industry and put Irish jobs at risk.”