Unprecedented NHL game online blocking could help combat piracy, lawyers say

Internet companies will have to block access to certain website addresses during NHL games in order to help combat the intellectual property piracy around the broadcasts

Braden Holtby, Antoine Roussel, Quinn Hughes, Nils Höglander, Jordie Benn, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Thatcher Demko celebrate a Vancouver Canucks win | Photo: Bob Kronbauer / Vancouver is Awesome

A Federal Court of Canada decision to block rogue internet organizations pirating copyrighted hockey game broadcasts could have far-reaching implications for website blocking in the future, Canadian lawyers say.

On May 27, the Federal Court of Canada issued a website-blocking injunction to assist copyright owners in their fight against online piracy.

Media companies had sought an injunction requiring established Canadian internet service providers (ISPs), to block internet protocol (IP) addresses hosting copyright-infringing pirate streams of live NHL broadcasts.

The court issued the injunction directing the ISPs to block access to certain IP addresses identified in real time during NHL hockey matches.

While the blocking order was limited to the 2021-22 NHL season, it could have far-reaching implications, said Osler Hoskin & Harcourt law firm lawyers Christopher Audie, Vincent de Grandpré and Sydney Young in a June 9 opinion.

“While the injunction was tailored to the facts at issue, the court’s reasons provide a legal framework and guideposts that will assist other copyright owners in seeking dynamic website-blocking injunctions in the future,” the lawyers said.

The group of companies that sought the injunction were Rogers Communications Inc., Rogers Communications, BCE Inc., Bell Media Inc., CTV Specialty Television Enterprises Inc., The Sports Network Inc., Les Reseau Des Sports Inc., and Groupe TVA Inc.

The companies own copyright for live NHL game broadcasts in Canada.

Judge William Pentney said he was satisfied the plaintiffs established a very strong case that the unknown defendants were engaging in ongoing breach of copyright in the broadcasts of live NHL games.

The lawyers said the plaintiffs “have faced significant challenges in protecting their content against pirates who anonymously broadcast NHL games from shifting IP addresses.”

“The dynamic blocking order granted in this case is unprecedented in Canada,” Pentney said. “I am satisfied that, in the circumstances of this case, it is just and equitable to grant this relief, subject to the very specific terms and restrictions set out in the order.”

The lawyers said the order is the first of its kind in North America.