Third party website blocking Down Under – second look

Following up last week’s quick note, a closer look at Nicholas J’s decision in Roadshow Films v Telstra ordering the ISPs to block access to a number of offshore websites on the basis that they were primarily sites which infringe, or facilitate the infringement of, copyright (which unhelpfully didn’t publish last year on schedule)Oh well, hopefully better late than never!

There were two separate actions: one brought by Roadshow Films and the second brought by Foxtel. Both proceedings sought orders against essentially three groups of ISPs: Telstra, Optus and TPG. Roadshow also sought orders against M2. Roadshow was seeking orders under s115A compelling the ISPs to block their subscribers’ access to a number of SolarMovie sites (which in the end resolved back solarmovie.ph). Foxtel was seeking the injunctions to block access to various Pirate Bay, Torrenz, TorrentHound and IsoHunt websites.

The ISPs did not contest the injunctions, but there were disputes about some of the terms.

The injunctions

Nicholas J therefore ordered that each of the ISPs take reasonable steps to disable access to “the Target Online Location”. By way of example, the Target Online Location in the Roadshow matter was defined as the online location or online locations known as “SolarMovie” that are or were accessible:

(A) at the following URLs:

  (I) https://www.solarmovie.is

  (II)    http://www.solarmovie.com;

  (III)   http://www.solarmovie.eu; and

  (IV)    https://www.solarmovie.ph;

  (together, the Target URLs);

(B) at the following IP Addresses:

  (I) 185.47.10.11;

  (II)    205.204.80.87;

  (III)   188.92.78.142; and

  (IV)    68.71.61.168;

  (together, the Target IP Addresses);

(C) at the following Domain Names:

  (I) solarmovie.is;

  (II)    solarmovie.com;

  (III)   solarmovie.eu; and 

  (IV)    solarmovie.ph.

Order 3 then provided that the ISP would be deemed to have taken reasonable steps if it took any one or more of the following steps:

(a) DNS Blocking in respect of the Target Domain Names;[1]

(b) IP Address blocking or re-routing in respect of the Target IP Addresses;[2]

(c) URL blocking in respect of the Target URLs and the Target Domain Names;[3] or

(d) any alternative technical means for disabling access to a Target Online Location as agreed in writing between the applicants and a respondent.

It seems from his Honour’s reasons that the ISPs expect to use DNS Blocking.

After the hearing in June, the particular Solarmovie sites went offline. Nicholas J was satisfied, however, that s 115A still permitted him to make orders blocking access. In contrast, his Honour did not consider there was sufficient evidence to block access to some of the Pirate Bay URLs associated with “CloudFlare”, but which had always been inactive. Nichols J accepted that these websites gave rise to “suspicion”, but it was not strong enough to warrant ordering an injunction.

Landing pages

Nicholas J further ordered that the ISPs must redirect communications attempting to view the “blocked” websites to a landing page. The ISP could choose to set up its own landing page but, if it did not wish to incur those costs, it was required to notify the relevant applicant. Once notified, the relevant applicant had to set up a landing page stating that access to the website had been disabled because the Court has found that it infringes, or facilitates the infringement of, copyright.

Whack-a-mole

Given the ease with which a website can be shifted to a new address, Roadshow and Foxtel sought orders that they add to the list of blocked addresses by letter to the ISPs.

Unlike the English courts, Nicholas J considered that an extension of the orders to other websites should require the involvement of the Court. Accordingly, his Honour ordered that applications to extend the orders to new iterations should be made to the Court on affidavit with proposed short minutes of order to extend the injunctions. This imposes some constraint on the use of such injunctions by enabling the ISPs to object.

How long

Nicholas J ordered that the scheme set in place should run for an initial period of 3 years. Six months before that expiry, however, the applicants can provide affidavit evidence to set out their case for an extension. The ISPs then have an opportunity to object or, if no objection is forthcoming, the Court may order an extension.

Costs

Roadshow and Foxtel did not seek costs. The respondents did.

Nicholas J considered that the costs of the ISPs incurred in setting up the technical requirements for the scheme to operate were simply costs of doing business and so to be borne by them. They were costs that would have to be incurred independently of these particular actions.

However, his Honour ordered that each ISP could charge $50 for each domain name included in the orders. His Honour considered that, as each ISP proposed to use DNS Blocking, a uniform figure should be used. $50 was a bit lower than some ISPs wanted and a bit higher than others.[4]

Nicholas J also ordered that the applicants pay the ISPs costs of the proceeding relating to the method for extending the regime to new iterations of a website and compliance costs.

Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v Telstra Corporation Ltd [2016] FCA 1503 (Nicholas J)


  1. Nicholas J defined DNS Blocking as “a system by which any user of a respondent’s service who attempts to use a DNS resolver that is operated by or on behalf of that respondent to access a Target Online Location is prevented from receiving a DNS response other than a redirection as referred to in order 5.” Apparently, at [13], “ISPs can block access to specific online locations entered into the address bar of the Internet browser, by configuring their DNSS to either return no IP Address so that an error message is displayed to users or so that users are directed to a predetermined IP Address that differs from that designated by the specific online location’s IP Address.”  ?
  2. At [15], his Honour explained that IP Address Blocking involves the ISP not routing outbound traffic to the specified address. This apparently can be problematic as it can also block access to other websites stored on the server with the specified address. Hello ASIC, anyone?  ?
  3. At [14], Nicholas J described URL Blocking as comparing the destination address specified in a “packet” of data being routed across the internet to a list of addresses to be blocked and, if there is a match, blocking transmission.  ?
  4. This amount is an interesting contrast to the figures quoted by the Court of Appeal in the Cartier case in England at [19] which ranged from (in GBP) three figures to six figures each year. See also [129] – [150] of Cartier.  ?

Commonwealth can sue on the undertaking as to damages

The Full Court (Dowsett, Kenny and Nicholas JJ) has upheld the Commonwealth’s power to sue for damages on the undertaking as to damages given by Sanofi and Wyeth when obtaining interlocutory injunctions against generic suppliers.

Sanofi sued Apotex (then called GenRX) for patent infringement when the latter sought to registration in the Therapeutic Goods Register of drug containing clopidogrel. Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction preventing the listing and sale of Apotex’ product, on terms of the “usual undertaking as to damages”. Thus, as a condition of obtaining the interlocutory relief, Sanofi undertook to the court:

(a) to submit to such order (if any) as the Court may consider to be just for the payment of compensation, to be assessed by the Court or as it may direct, to any person, whether or not a party, adversely affected by the operation of the interlocutory order or undertaking or any continuation (with or without variation) thereof; and

(b) to pay the compensation referred to in (a) to the person there referred to. (emphasis supplied)

After the trial judge found Sanofi’s patent valid and infringed, the Full Court on appeal held that the patent was invalid. Ultimately, the High Court refused special leave.[1]

The Commonwealth, which was not a party to either the Sanofi or Wyeth proceedings is now claiming compensation from Sanofi and Wyeth under the “undertaking as to damages”. In broad terms, it says it suffered losses because the price it paid under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was higher than it would have been if the generic parties had not been prevented from listing and selling their products by the interlocutory injunctions.

Sanofi and Wyeth argued that sections 26B, 26C, 26D of the Therapeutic Goods Act[2] precluded the Commonwealth from claiming under the usual undertaking as to damages. The Full Court held, however, that these provisions were ancillary or additional to the Court’s powers under the undertaking. They did not provide an exhaustive code which excluded the operation of the undertaking.

Dowsett J delivered a concurring judgment, suggesting at [20] that some restriction on the scope of the usual undertaking should have been sought and then questioning, if such a restriction had been sought, whether it would have been appropriate to grant the interlocutory injunction:

…. As the Commonwealth was not a party to the proceedings in which the undertakings were given, they were presumably not extracted at its request. I infer that the Court extracted the undertakings. It is not suggested that it lacked the power to do so in order to protect the interests of identified or unidentified third parties. In submitting that the Commonwealth may not recover other than pursuant to s 26C, the Sanofi and Wyeth parties effectively seek to resile from their undertakings. It may be simply too late for them to do so. Any limitations upon the undertakings ought to have been sought at the time at which they were given. The Court would then have had to consider whether such limited undertakings were sufficient to justify the grant of the interlocutory injunctions. The Commonwealth has not put its case in that way. However, in any event, I see no basis for limiting the Commonwealth’s right to seek to enforce the undertakings to the extent that it benefits under them.

If only the regime under sections 26B, 26C, 26D had been available, it looks like Sanofi’s and Wyeth’s exposure would have been limited to situations where they had given false or misleading certificates or did not have “reasonable prospects of success”.[3]

Commonwealth of Australia v Sanofi (formerly Sanofi-Aventis) [2015] FCAFC 172


  1. Similarly, in the Wyeth proceedings an interlocutory injunction was granted on the usual undertaking as to damages, but the patent was ultimately found to be invalid.  ?
  2. These provisions were introduced as part of the package implementing the Australia – United States Free Trade Agreement relating particularly to the 5 year data exclusivity for pharmaceutical test data.  ?
  3. Defined in s 26C(4) as “(4) For the purpose of paragraph (3)(b), proceedings have reasonable prospects of success if: (a) the second person had reasonable grounds in all the circumstances known to the second person, or which ought reasonably to have been known to the second person (in addition to the fact of grant of the patent), for believing that he or she would be entitled to be granted final relief by the court against the person referred to in paragraph (1)(a) for infringement by that person of the patent; and (b) the second person had reasonable grounds in all the circumstances known to the second person, or which ought reasonably to have been known to the second person (in addition to the fact of grant of the patent), for believing that each of the claims, in respect of which infringement is alleged, is valid; and
    (c) the proceedings are not otherwise vexatious or unreasonably pursued.”  ?