A Greek anti-piracy group has convinced a special government-affiliated commission to require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to major torrenting sites in Greece, including The Pirate Bay, 1337x, YTS, and more. The order also targets a number of popular subtitle sites.
The blocking request came from a group known as the Society for the Protection of Audiovisual Works (EPOE in Greek), which represents the interests of the major copyright holders in the country. This successful move to force ISPs to block the major torrenting sites comes almost four years after the Athens Court, Greece’s supreme court, shot down a similar measure in 2015.
It ruled at the time that any order requiring ISPs to block torrenting sites would be disproportional and a violation of various constitutional rights.
This recent move by the EPOE successfully circumvented the Athens Court ruling from 2015, going directly to a special commission under the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, known as the IPPC. That commission ordered that ISPs in Greece must block 38 domain names, including the major torrenting sites, as well as local ones, such as Xrysoi, Gamatotv and Tainiomania. The order also names subtitle sites like Subztv.club, Subtitles.gr, and more.
The IPPC concluded that torrenting sites (and for some reason, subtitle sites as well) are complicit in large-scale copyright infringement. The order is set to last for 3 years and will charge ISPs 850 euros per day until they comply with the order.
However, the order explicitly states that it doesn’t cover offenses committed by users – only ISPs. For that reason, Greek torrenting users will most likely turn to using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for torrenting to get around these blocks, since VPNs allow users to spoof their IP addresses, making ISPs believe they’re in a different location than they actually are.
That way, for example, Greek users can connect to a VPN server in the US and be treated like American visitors, avoiding these local ISP torrent blocks.
Will the order stand up in court?
One important question to ask is whether the new order will actually stand up in court. While European courts, unlike their American counterpart, don’t depend on precedent, it’s still worth recalling the failed bid in 2015 to have ISPs block torrenting sites. That ruling stated that those types of blocks are a violation of various constitutional rights, and it is very likely the Athens Court will come to a similar conclusion if the order is challenged in court by local ISPs.
On the other hand, there’s still the European Union’s Court of Justice to put up with. In June 2017, the EU’s top court ruled that ISPs actually can be ordered to block access to the most popular torrenting site, The Pirate Bay, even though it doesn’t actually store infringing material. That order can easily be extended to cover all torrenting sites.
Therefore, if the order is challenged in Athens, and the Greek supreme court rules that the order is unconstitutional, the EPOE can still head to the EU Court of Justice and have the order reinstated.
Only time will tell how this situation plays out in Greece and, more generally, in the EU as well.
The order and full list of 38 domain names being blocked can be found here [pdf] – although it is in Greek, the domains are listed (and readable for English-speakers) at the bottom of p. 26.