A Paris civil court has ordered search engines and Internet access providers to block sixteen websites that stream copyrighted content, handing a win to film and television producers' unions after a two-year legal battle.
The unions petitioned the court in 2011 after their requests to block allostreaming.com, allomovies.com and others sites went unheeded by Internet providers, including Orange and Vivendi's SFR and search engines Google and Yahoo, according to the court order issued on Thursday.
The court said the five unions representing film and TV producers had "sufficiently shown that the Allostreaming network of websites is entirely or almost entirely dedicated to the representation of audiovisual works without the permission of their creators" and break French intellectual property laws.
The court, which also said the search engines or broadband providers should not have to pay for the cost of site blocking, did not spell out exactly how the work should be carried out by the companies and left that up to them.
The decision can be appealed by the companies affected.
Some of the defendants had argued that blocking the illegal streaming websites was unworkable because users merely posted mirror versions of the sites under different names and using forums to communicate locations of pirated content.
The court dismissed the concerns, saying: "The impossibility of ensuring the complete and perfect execution of the decisions should not lead courts to ignore the content creators' intellectual property rights."
The unions who brought the case welcomed the decision and lauded the role that "judges can play to protect content".
Google, one of four search engines targeted by the lawsuit, said it was disappointed and would evaluate whether to appeal. "We will continue to work with content owners to help them combat piracy across Google's services," said the company.
Google already operates a system where content owners can send in specific web addresses of pirated content for the search engine to remove. It got 57 million requests and acted on them in six hours on average last year.
In the French case, Google argued that blocking entire websites was not suitable since it could also cut off access to legal content. It also said blocking entire websites was illegal and incompatible with free speech.
Orange, France's largest Internet provider, said it would apply the decision despite concerns on "policing the Internet".
It also said the ruling had positive aspects, namely that Internet firms can carry out blocking by any technological means they choose and that judges must be consulted.
"We remain convinced, however, that the only real effective solution against piracy is the development of attractive legal services for consumers," said Orange.