A new court order has just blacklisted over 50 of the most popular free movie and TV show streaming sites in Australia. Major internet service providers like Telstra, Optus, and TPG now have just 15 days to block customer access to 123Movies, Soap2Day, KissCartoon and much more.
This is the latest escalation in an ongoing battle between copyright holders and internet pirates down under. Let‘s break down exactly what sites are impacted, what this means for Australian streamers, and whether other countries could follow suit.
How Significant is Piracy in Australia?
To understand why copyright holders pushed for such an aggressive anti-piracy campaign, we first need to examine the scope of illegal streaming and downloads in Australia.
Recent statistics paint a sobering picture:
21% of Australians admit to using pirate sites as their main source of movies and shows.
The country has 5.6 million regular torrent users.
Over one billion visits to piracy sites originate from Australia annually.
Pirate sites rake in around 53 million AUD a year from ads targeting Australian audiences.
Rights holder groups argue this pervasive piracy results in huge losses in revenue. Village Roadshow claims illegal streaming platforms cost them "hundreds of millions of dollars" per year in Australia alone.
With piracy showing no signs of slowing down, the recent court order aims to stem these losses by directly cutting off access to the most egregious sites.
Which Sites Are Now Blocked?
The court order targets a lengthy list of over 50 domains alleged to be facilitating mass copyright infringement in Australia. Let‘s take a closer look at some of the major targets:
123Movies – Since being launched in Vietnam in 2016, 123Movies has exploded into one of the most popular free movie streaming destinations worldwide. But its convenience comes through openly hosting pirated copies of films and shows.
Soap2Day – Soap2Day provides an endless catalog of movies to stream instantly for free. However, it accomplishes this by pulling pirated content from third party hosts.
Vumoo – This site does not host content itself, but aggregates and indexes links to pirated movies hosted on cyberlockers and streaming sites.
KissCartoon – Focusing on animated shows and manga, KissCartoon makes thousands of titles available to watch illegally.
MyFlixer – MyFlixer operates as a portal linking to copyright-infringing streams and torrent downloads for an array of movies and TV shows.
The list continues with dozens of lesser known streaming portals, direct download hubs, torrent sites and even hosting platforms like Anonfiles. Viewing or downloading from any of these sites violates copyright law.
You can see the full target list attached to the original court order here.
How Does DNS Blocking Work?
The court requires Australian ISPs to block the list of infringing sites using "DNS blocking, IP address blocking, URL blocking, or any alternative technical means for disabling access."
DNS blocking is one of the most straightforward methods. Internet providers maintain their own DNS servers which translate domain names like 123movies.com into the actual IP addresses needed to route traffic.
By simply blacklisting the domain in their DNS servers, the ISP can ensure any request to connect to 123movies.com fails since the IP address will not resolve.
However, savvy internet users can still bypass DNS blocks by manually setting their devices to use alternative public DNS servers like Cloudflare (184.108.40.206) or Google (220.127.116.11). Site operators also frequently change domains to dodge blocks.
More advanced blocking uses deep packet inspection to identify traffic flows to target site IPs regardless of the domain used. But this "censorship at the router level" is technically challenging, prone to mistakes, and raises public concerns.
What Does This Mean for Australian Pirates?
This mass blocking undoubtedly spells trouble for the millions of Australians casually accessing unauthorized content. While still possible to circumvent, it becomes much more difficult.
Experts I spoke with expect the blocks to significantly disrupt illicit streaming behaviors:
"It raises the effort and technical hurdle significantly for the average user. The Intent is not to stop the most determined pirates, but to deter and direct casual infringers towards legitimate means." – John Barnes, Managing Director, Media Safety.
"This will force users to other piracy sites still accessible or subscriptions as substitutes. It helps erode the ‘piracy is free and easy‘ perception to some degree." – Brad Rodrigues, Copyright Analyst.
In the near term, local pirate forums and subreddits are already abuzz with debates on VPNs and other methods to bypass the blocked domains. Some believe, as has happened in other regions, the major pirate sites will simply migrate to new .com.au domains in the future.
But in my opinion, this cat-and-mouse game still inflicts damage each time sites are disrupted or domains change. And it gradually shifts norms and behaviors toward legitimate streaming.
Could Website Blocking Spread Globally?
Rights holders around the world are watching Australia closely to gauge the impact. If the data shows a significant dip in piracy, calls to replicate the blocks elsewhere will amplify.
We can look to the United Kingdom for a preview. After passing similar legislation in 2017 enabling site blocking, over 1,000 domains have been targeted by copyright holders. Stricter blocks on ISP level have also taken effect this year.
And the result? One recent report found that piracy rates have declined up to 47% across major UK sites in the years since blocking began.
However, free speech advocates warn of the risks of overreach. And consumers increasingly access unauthorized content through cloud storage, streaming apps and other means not addressed by site blocking.
The path forward remains complex for both copyright and public interest. But thecoming months in Australia will certainly influence global anti-piracy policy.
What Legal Options Still Exist?
While the court order aims to deter piracy, rights holders understand the importance of also providing legal and affordable streaming options.
Australian authorities are working with streaming platforms to promote legitimate alternatives. Here are the top options suggested for accessing movies, shows and more legally:
Netflix – The king of streaming worldwide, featuring hit original shows like Stranger Things.
Disney+ – Can‘t miss Disney, Pixar, Marvel and other content.
Stan – Leading local Australian streaming provider with must-see exclusives.
ABC iView and SBS OnDemand – Free streaming from Australian national broadcasters.
AnimeLab – Top anime streaming service Down Under.
Tubi, Pluto TV – Free TV and movie channel apps.
iTunes, Google Play – Buy or rent titles individually.
Kayo Sports – Sports streaming for Aussie leagues and worldwide.
Rights holders are also working closely with these platforms to ensure availability of content. Recent deals brought more ABC and SBS shows to Netflix for example.
With the targeted pirate sites now blocked, streaming through legal platforms is fast becoming the easiest and most affordable option for Australians.
This historic court order demonstrates the aggressive new phase in the copyright battle unfolding in Australia. While the outcome remains uncertain, website blocking at scale has the potential to significantly disrupt entrenched piracy behaviors.
Rights holder groups hope this action represents a tipping point toward legitimizing streaming. But for Australian internet users, it will mean adapting to a new normal of restricted access.
What do you think about the Australian site blocking controversy as an internet user? Are there lessons other countries should take from this approach? I‘m eager to hear your perspective in the comments below!