What’s Wrong With Sky’s Injunction Against ISPs And What It Could More Productively Be Spending The Money On

December 1, 2017
3 mins read

PAT PILCHER has a novel idea for Sky TV and all the money it will spend convincing ISPs to police the internet.


Sky TV’s move to issue injunctions requiring ISPs to block access to websites facilitating piracy might be gutsy, but is it workable? Taking a closer look, it appears that it’ll create more problems than it’ll solve.

Here’s the thing: the stakes are high. If the blockade bid fails, Sky TV are faced with an unwinnable war against piracy. If the blockade succeeds, we’ll end up paying more for broadband. Should broadcasters be able to dictate what websites we should and shouldn’t have access to? We’ll also be in the unenviable position of paying a censorship tax to prop up Sky.

Either way there are big problems. Here’s my take:

The biggest and most tricky thing with Sky’s blockade is its vague nature. Sky say that they want websites blocked because they aid piracy.

The moral issues of piracy are one thing, but the lack of transparency around which websites are blocked is another altogether.

Should the blockade go ahead then in effect we’ll have broadcasters deciding what we can and can’t access online. I don’t know about you, but I have big problems with this.

For a start, how robust is Sky’s definition of piracy? Then what about checks and balances? These are needed to ensure that any blocked websites are rationally and fairly chosen.

As it stands there are no such processes proposed. Surely an impartial body should decide which sites are blocked and why. This should be done in a manner that is transparent to the public and open to dispute.

As it stands the blocking process is at best vague and lacks in transparency. Because of this, it is also open to abuse. In theory broadcasters could block access to competitors. Is it just me or is it 2017? I thought 1984 happened over 30 years ago?

You could also argue that having a pay TV operator tell us what parts of the net we can and can’t access is censorship and that most ISPs don’t want to police the internet. New Zealand is a democracy. We deserve better, regardless of how loud Sky TV’s board of directors squeal.

Then there’s the fact that history appears to be repeating. There’s been countless court cases overseas where the courts ruled that ISPs cannot be liable for the activities of their users. These legal precedents are likely to be tested in NZ courts soonish. Spark have already indicated that they’ll fight Sky. Legal outcomes aside, the real winners are likely to be law firms, who stand to pocket sizeable piles of money.

Speaking of money, the financial pain from this will be ongoing, not only for ISPs, but for everyone who pays for broadband, because the costs of complying with Sky’s blockade will be sizeable. These costs will probably get passed onto consumers.

Sky TV have talked up the fact that blockades operate in many other countries. What Sky are not talking about is that blocking internet access simply hasn’t worked. In the UK blocking web access has seen a huge number of counter measures become available. This has seen governments and ISPs fighting an unwinnable digital arms race. In these countries, hundreds of thousands of internet users continue to bypass blockades on a daily basis. This costs governments and ISPs a pile of money, which will come from taxpayers and internet users. Surely that money could be spent on something more useful than propping up a pay TV operator?

Most irritating of all is that an internet blockade won’t improve what we’re seeing on our TVs. Blocking access to websites Sky says aid piracy won’t see repeats of decades old re-runs replaced with new shows.

Sadder still, the move by Sky ignores other viable and positive alternatives. Would it not be a better approach to use the money spent enforcing a blockade to produce local content? By local content I am not talking about reality TV or yet more current affairs shows, but quality NZ made drama. Offshore piracy websites don’t host content produced in NZ. Netflix won’t have access to this content either. Local content will give jobs to Kiwis, and also help reinforce our national identity. This local content might be something people actually want to watch. Best of all it’d be in Sky’s interests to re-sell to off-shore broadcasters to generate some extra funding.

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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