The Premier League’s battle against copyright infringing websites went badly wrong this week when it mistakenly caused UK internet providers to block hundreds of unrelated websites, including those of Blackburn Rovers and the Radio Times.
Ahead of the new football season’s kick-off on Saturday, the Premier League last month won a court order to prevent British internet users accessing First Row Sports, a Swedish website offering video streams of football games around the world.
But in its attempt to block the pirate site, the Premier League mistakenly asked the UK’s six biggest internet service providers – including BT, Virgin Media and Sky – to block an internet protocol address that is used by hundreds of other companies.
The blunder shows how the UK’s move towards court-enforced web blocking can have unintended consequences for online businesses and web users.
Ben Preston, editor of the Radio Times, said: “It’s outrageous that our website has been suddenly switched off and our users wrongly informed that it’s to protect against copyright infringement.”
“The Premier League seems to be behaving like the worst sort of blundering striker who’s forgotten the first rule of football – check you’re at the right end before you shoot.”
Websites were only blocked if people typed in a partial website address such as “radiotimes.com” rather than the full “www.radiotimes.com” address.
Spokespeople for BT, Sky and Virgin said they removed the block after the mistake was brought to their attention.
Virgin said: “As a responsible ISP we obey court orders when addressed to the company. However, we do not believe the instruction to block this particular IP address meets the criteria of the court order against First Row Sports so we have stopped blocking it and have written to the Premier League.”
All the affected sites were customers of a company called DNS Made Easy, which manages domain name systems, according to an employee of one of the ISPs who is familiar with the matter.
The problem arose because the Premier League had asked the ISPs to block an IP address used by DNS Made Easy in the mistaken belief that it was associated only with First Row Sports, the person said.
DNS Made Easy could not be reached for comment.
The Premier League said it was “urgently” looking into the matter. It added: “The fact remains that the High Court has ordered an injunction requiring internet service providers to block First Row Sports and we will continue to implement it and expect the ISPs to respect the ruling.”
In a landmark case last year that followed pressure from the music industry, the UK High Court ordered ISPs to block The Pirate Bay, one of the most popular websites that help internet users find content for download via peer-to-peer networks.
Critics of site-blocking say it is ineffective because internet users can find their way to sites via proxy servers, virtual private networks or services that hide the user’s location. Others argue blocking is dangerous because it could lead to censorship of the web.