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Village Roadshow launches site-blocking action, but the fight's just beginning

Village Roadshow is heading to the Federal Court in a bid to block online movie streaming site SolarMovie. Never heard of it? Chances are you'll know the other targets that Roadshow and Foxtel have in their sights.

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When Australia passed website-blocking laws last year, the big-name rights holders in Australia stayed mum on what they planned to do with the newfound arrow in their anti-piracy quiver.

But now, the first court case is set to kick off and Village Roadshow has volunteered as tribute.

The Australian film studio has today confirmed that it has applied to the Federal Court to block online movie streaming website SolarMovie, making it the first rights holder to commence legal action under Australia's new anti-piracy legislation.

But while Roadshow is getting in first, don't expect the case against SolarMovie to be the last. The movie studio also has its sights set on other overseas websites that are deemed to "facility copyright infringement" and is hoping to set a precedent with this first case.

Alongside Roadshow, CNET understands that Foxtel is suiting up its legal team, with applications against four sites that have all been successfully blocked in overseas jurisdictions. CNET also understands that Pirate Bay is among the four sites addressed in Foxtel's court applications.

Site-blocking legislation was first mooted in late 2014 when then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull slated a crackdown on copyright infringement. The laws were announced alongside plans for a three-strikes scheme to send warning letters to pirates (though Village Roadshow today revealed that scheme has been shelved).

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 [PDF] was later introduced to Parliament and passed in June 2015. The bill allows copyright holders such as film studios and record labels to apply to the Federal Court for an injunction requiring all Australian ISPs to block overseas websites ("online locations") deemed to "facilitate" piracy.

Late last year, Village Roadshow confirmed that it was preparing an application to the court under the new laws, and today the wheels were put in motion.

Speaking to CNET, Village Roadshow Co-CEO Graham Burke said the Government has given rights holders "the weapons to begin the fight back against pirates," which have had "open slather" until now.

And if a fight against pirates is brewing, Burke is bringing some colourful pre-game trash talk to the party.

"We're just continuing the work that Charles Dickens did when he sailed to America, in 1800-and-something, to lead the charge to introduce copyright in the United States, which didn't exist," he said.

"I'm very passionate that these guys contribute nothing. They don't hire one Australian person, and their advertising... is open sesame to illegal gambling, to no age limit, to sex ads, party drugs. I think what the government has done in giving us the ammunition is very, very important."

Burke said rights holders have a responsibility to ensure they "continue to make product available in a cheap and timely fashion" but that the arrival of Netflix, Stan and Presto had helped Australia make great strides on that front.

You may be wondering, Solar-Who? But Burke says SolarMovie was chosen because it is "pretty high profile" and "particularly nasty."

"We've got to start, and so we figured SolarMovie is without doubt a website whose primary purpose is to infringe [copyright], so we chose that one as the first one. It's also a site that's been blocked in a number of other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, Italy and, yesterday, in Singapore."

And that won't be the last of it. After the legislation passed, critics warned that the laws could drag virtual private networks or VPNs into their nets. When questioned about whether Roadshow would target websites that allow users to download VPN or torrenting software, Burke said those providers were in the company's sights.

"We'll look at all options," he said.