Analysis Hundreds of legitimate websites were branded pirates and effectively kicked offline this week - after a court ordered UK ISPs to block access to an IP address they all shared with a copyright-infringing site.
That network address - 22.214.171.124 - resolves to DNS Made Easy's
http-redirection-d.dnsmadeeasy.com service, which is used by (for example) the BBC's Radio Times to redirect radiotimes.com visitors to www.radiotimes.com.
And that redirection service, and hence the IP address, was also used by football-match-streaming website First Row Sports (FirstRow1.eu), access to which is now banned following a London High Court ruling against it.
When Blighty's ISPs halted internet access to that address, all manner of websites, from the Beeb's aforementioned telly mag to search engine DuckDuckGo and a number of football clubs, suddenly found themselves silenced on the net in the UK.
A public kerfuffle ensued as fans piled in to complain to Virgin Media, BSkyB and BT for unceremoniously "blocking" perfectly legal content. But it turns out that the telcos were not to blame for the cock-up.
The affected websites have one thing in common: they each use a managed DNS hosting service provided by DNS Made Easy that uses four IP addresses for load-balancing purposes.
One of those IP addresses is the banned 126.96.36.199. ISPs were instructed to prevent Brits from accessing it after a High Court judgment went against Sweden-based FirstRow1.eu following a successful copyright-infringement case fought by the FA Premier League. Footie bosses claim the Swedes had no right to show the matches online.
Mr Justice Arnold concluded at the time that the operators of First Row were "profiting from infringement on a large scale".
On Monday, site-blocking of First Row began, and that's when the trouble started as hundreds of legit sites temporarily fell victim to the court order.
Importantly, the websites in question that appeared to have been kicked off the net could easily be accessed by simply remembering to type in the prefix "www" in front of the URLs. DNS Made Easy also stopped redirecting sites that used the 188.8.131.52 IP address because that was on the court order's hit list.
It's down to rights-holders such as the Premier League to "accurately identify" which IP addresses should be blocked. Telcos, meanwhile, are not required to double check the list to help uncover such mistakes.
BT didn't have much to say about the FA's own goal. Instead it offered us this simple statement:
BT will only block access to websites for online copyright infringement when ordered by a court to do so.
Virgin Media told The Register:
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.
And BSkyB said:
Sky only ever blocks websites in line with court orders. However, if we believe a particular website is covered by a court order in error, we will raise this with the rights owner and re-enable access, as we have done in the case of the Front Row Sports order.
The Premier League insisted that ISPs should have immediately informed it of any issues from implementing the block.
Speak to the goalie gloves, cos the face ain't listening
Rights-holders in Britain can now use the law to force telcos to filter out sites that infringe their copyright. They can also regularly dictate to ISPs what IP addresses and URLs should be blocked, as well as including on that list proxies that simply link to that illegal content.
A landmark 2011 test case led to the blocking of Usenet-sweeping website Newzbin2, after a High Court judge ruled that BT was responsible under section 97A of the Copyright Act to take direct action to prevent its subscribers from accessing the site.
The judgment was significant for setting a precedent in the UK for blocking such content.
ISP industry sources have expressed "growing and widespread concern" to El Reg about rights-holders going too far by insisting that proxies should also be blocked.
This latest incident perhaps highlights that - while copyright owners are keen to try and put an end to their content being illegally snatched and repurposed - they really ought to be a little more careful with how they draw up their lists.
Making them public might just help put an end to this sorry affair. ®