Matheson’s technology and IP law blog

Website blocking orders continue to proliferate in the UK and Ireland

September, 2013


In the recent UK decision The Football Association Premier League Ltd v British Sky Broadcasting Limited [2013] ECDR 14, the English High Court granted an order requiring the major UK ISPs to block a website known as FirstRow Sports, a portal website for streamed broadcasts of sporting events.

This is one of the first decisions to block a website other than P2P filesharing sites such as The Pirate Bay. The FirstRow Sports website itself does not stream the content, which emanates from third party websites, but it does facilitate access to the streams. Mr Justice Arnold who has decided the majority of the website blocking cases in the UK noted that, despite the difference between this website and previous cases, the jurisdiction to grant such orders is now firmly established in the UK. The defendant ISPs who did not appear and were not represented were presumably of a similar mind. This approach of not appearing has been adopted by ISPs since the first UK application in Twentieth Century Fox v British Telecommunications Plc [2011] EWHC 1981 and 2714.

It has recently been reported that upon implementation of the FirstRow Sports block, hundreds of legitimate websites including the Blackburn Rovers website and a redirection service used by the BBC’s Radio Times were blocked also. The issue of over-blocking of websites is one of concern given the nature of the Internet and the fact that IP addresses can be shared on the Internet. If you block a particular IP address then all websites sharing that IP address are blocked as a result. The over-blocking issues in the FirstRow Sports case has led to a number of the ISPs lifting the block on a temporary basis at least.

In Ireland the first website blocking order was granted in June this year by McGovern J in EMI Records (Ireland) Limited and Others v UPC Communications Ireland Limited. In that case, which was initiated in December last year, certain ISPs raised concerns with the court about over-blocking  which did result in a substantial reduction in the IP addresses involved in The Pirate Bay block.  It is expected that further applications will be made in Ireland to block websites. The lesson to be learned from the UK experience, particularly if rightsholders are seeking to limit ISP participation on costs grounds, is that websites must be identified accurately.