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Italian court demands Cloudflare implement some web-blocks

By | Published on Tuesday 19 July 2022


The Italian record industry has secured an interim injunction against internet services firm Cloudflare ordering it to stop users from accessing three copyright infringing BitTorrent sites via its DNS resolver.

While Cloudflare is an entirely legitimate company, it has been regularly criticised by the music industry for facilitating piracy operations. That usually relates to Cloudflare providing services to people or companies accused of rampant copyright infringement, including services that allow the infringers to hide their locations or identities.

For its part, Cloudflare has always resisted calls to more proactively identify and block copyright infringers among its customer base, generally arguing that – while it is happy to comply with court orders – it can’t simply cut off customers based on the complaints of copyright owners.

In Italy, the dispute with Cloudflare was slightly different. The company also offers internet users a so called DNS resolver. Most people don’t even realise they are using a DNS resolver when accessing the web, as it’s a process handled by their internet service provider. However, you can pick a different DNS resolver if you so wish.

There are various reasons for doing that. But one reason is that – if your internet service provider has blocked you from accessing a website on piracy grounds, most likely because of a web-blocking injunction secured by the music or movie industries – switching to an alternative DNS resolver often allows you to circumvent the blockade.

With web-blocking now a preferred anti-piracy tactic of the music and movie industries in any country where web-block court orders are available, the sneaky tactics people employ to circumvent the blockades are a cause of concern for music and movie companies.

The question is, what internet businesses beyond conventional ISPs should be obliged to help ensure that web-blocks are as effective as possible. For example, what about the providers of alternative DNS resolvers?

In Germany, Sony Music has been seeking to force a not-for-profit DNS resolver called Quad9 to instigate some of its own web-blocks, an obligation Quad9 has been trying to fight.

Meanwhile, in Italy, the majors – coordinated by national and global trade groups FIMI and IFPI – sought to force the Cloudflare DNS resolver to block access to three piracy sites that are already subject to web-blocks in the country.

The initial blocking orders in relation to those three sites were instigated by Italian regulator AGCOM. But do said orders also apply to Cloudflare? Well, yes, because the Court Of Milan has now issued an interim injunction to that effect. And the internet firm has 30 days to comply with that order, otherwise it will face daily fines.

Welcoming that ruling, IFPI boss Frances Moore says: “Cloudflare’s services were making it possible for users to access copyright infringing websites which were ordered to be blocked by the Italian regulator AGCOM. These sites divert revenues away from licensed music services and ultimately those investing in and creating music”.

“By ordering CloudFlare to stop providing access to these sites”, she goes on, “the Court Of Milan has made an important ruling that we believe sends a clear message to other online intermediaries that they too may be subject to action if their services are used for music piracy”.

Meanwhile, Enzo Mazza, CEO of FIMI, adds: “We welcome the court’s decision which will further strengthen the ongoing infringing site blocking programme performed by AGCOM in Italy, whilst also increasing the efficiency of the enforcement actions carried out by the rightsholders to protect their online content”.