Israeli copyright protectors, challengers duke it out online
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Israeli copyright protectors, challengers duke it out online

A local consortium of content owners and licensees persuaded a court to block online TV content sites — which led viewers of the sites to quickly come up with workarounds

Teen watches content online (Photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash 90)
Teen watches content online (Photo credit: Dror Garti/Flash 90)

Israelis who like to watch television and movies online are coping with the closure of two of their favorite sites, Gozlan and Nako, which were effectively shuttered this week after a Tel Aviv court gave the go-ahead for Internet service providers to block the sites.

The closure came after a petition by Zira, a group representing content providers, such as TV stations, Israeli media (video and music) production companies and licensees, cellphone service providers, and others, who supply material for consumption through traditional channels, like TV, radio and movie theaters.

In response, dozens of petitions have cropped up on Facebook and other social sites, the owners of the banned sites have changed the names and IP addresses of their sites in order to circumvent the blockage, and a plethora of postings by angry web surfers provides advice on how to beat the ban.

Monday’s closures were the latest in long string of legal victories by Zira and the content owners/licensees. Just two years ago, Israel was listed by the US-based content protection group RIAA (which has sued tens of thousands of Americans for illegal downloading) among the top ten countries in the world for illegal downloading. Zira, modeled after RIAA, has won numerous court judgments against sites that allow users to share, download, or watch copyrighted content.

Zira was established in 2011 after receiving permission from government antitrust authorities allowing the various content providers and licensees to unite specifically for the purpose of fighting illegal downloading and content sharing. Zira, the organization says, “works on behalf of content owners and licensees and warns owner and operators of sites with illegal content about possible legal action, and processes demands for payment of royalties.” As such, the group says, it is upholding the law by working to prevent the illegal activities of these sites.

But opponents of Zira’s activities — which include not only the owners of targeted sites, but attorneys and Internet rights organizations — don’t see it quite that way. According to a group called “Stop Zira,” it is the anti-downloading group that is disobeying the law, by bullying ISPs into blocking sites with questionable content. “These sites are not located in Israel and are not under the jurisdiction of the Israeli courts, so there is no legal basis to require ISPs to block them,” the group claims.

“In addition, they do not host content themselves, but simply forward users to other sites that do host the content in countries where it is not illegal to do so. [Zira’s] entire purpose is to force Israelis to be dependent on the companies they represent, in order to force consumers to pay their inflated prices,” the group said.

Israeli residents are barred from subscribing to sites that allow viewers to legally watch video content, such as iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and others. In recent months, Apple has expanded the Israeli iTunes store to allow local residents to purchase music online, but video content is still banned.

According to the Israeli Internet Society, there really is no point to blocking content sites; Israelis who want to watch TV and movies online will figure out a way to do so, outwitting any blockades Zira manages to put up. “Blocking Internet sites is ineffective,” the group said. “There are other ways to connect to sites that are blocked by ISPs.”

Meital Greiver-Schwartz, director of government regulation issues in the Israel Internet Society, said that although the group is fiercely opposed to illegal downloading and copyright violations, it felt that blocking sites was a dangerous precedent and that the courts should come up with alternative ways to deal with malefactors.

“Blocking of sites is a very serious matter and should only be done when all other alternatives have been exhausted,” she said. “The public must be consulted before the wholesale blocking of sites by private organizations, as the issue is one of freedom of information.”

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