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Italian court upholds web-blocking order against Cloudflare’s DNS resolver

By | Published on Thursday 10 November 2022


The Court Of Milan has dismissed an appeal by internet services company CloudFlare which was seeking to block an injunction forcing it to stop people from accessing three copyright infringing BitTorrent sites via its DNS resolver.

Although an entirely legitimate company, Cloudflare has been regularly criticised by copyright owners for not being more proactive in spotting and blocking any copyright infringing activity that occurs on its platform. Cloudflare remains resistant to proposals that it take action against allegedly infringing customers simply on the say so of a copyright owner, but does usually comply with copyright based court orders.

However, the court order secured by the Italian record industry back in July was a bit different, because it related specifically to Cloudflare’s DNS resolver, aka A DNS resolver is a key component of the so called Domain Name System which allows people to navigate the internet. Most people just use the DNS resolver provided by their internet service provider, but you can switch to an alternative if you know what you’re doing.

There are various reasons for switching to an alternative, but one reason might be to circumvent any web-blocks put in place by an ISP, possibly on copyright grounds. Which is why copyright owners have recently started to focus on DNS resolvers, in a bid to make the web-blocks they have forced onto ISPs that seek to block access to piracy sites more effective.

In Italy, the dispute with Cloudflare related to the web-blocking of three piracy sites. Italian regulator AGCOM had ordered the blocking of said sites, an order which applied to ISPs in the country. But, the record industry argued, that order should also apply to the Cloudflare DNS resolver, to hinder any Italian users seeking to circumvent the blockade by switching to the service. And the Court Of Milan agreed.

Cloudflare recently commented on efforts to force web-blocks onto its DNS resolver in a transparency report it published. It wrote: “Cloudflare has … received a small number of legal requests related to blocking or filtering content through the public DNS resolver. Because such a block would apply globally to all users of the resolver, regardless of where they are located, it would affect end users outside of the blocking government’s jurisdiction”.

“Given the broad extraterritorial effect, as well as the different global approaches to DNS-based blocking”, it went on, “Cloudflare has pursued legal remedies before complying with requests to block access to domains or content through the public DNS resolver or identified alternate mechanisms to comply with relevant court orders. To date, Cloudflare has not blocked content through the public DNS resolver”.

In Italy, that meant appealing July’s injunction. But the Court Of Milan has now dismissed the appeal meaning Cloudflare must now figure out a way of complying with the court order or risk being subject to fines. Needless to say, the latest ruling has been welcomed by the record industry.

Frances Moore, CEO at the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry, says: “Cloudflare’s services were making it possible for users to access copyright infringing websites that take revenues away from those investing in and creating music. By upholding the original order against Cloudflare, the Court Of Milan has set an important precedent that online intermediaries can be required to take effective action if their services are used for music piracy”.

Meanwhile the boss of Italian music industry trade body FIMI, Enzo Mazza, adds: “This is an important decision for Italy and beyond. Cloudflare, as well as other intermediaries providing similar services, should step up their efforts in preventing users access to illegal websites which were ordered to be blocked”.