Is Blocking Piracy Websites a Form of Censorship?

Mathew Sayer From our Perspective

When we think about censorship, it is the despot smothering free speech that jumps to mind. But as Morocco’s VoIP outage demonstrates censorship can be an economic weapon. (Of course our imagined censorious Qaddafi was banhammering for economic reasons, only a dictator can have an $800,000 birthday in a drought zone.) Censorship prevents people from accessing information; whether it’s revolutionary or copyrighted is moot. So does blocking piracy related websites count as censorship?

Back in 2012, a High Court order required six major UK ISPs to block access to piracy websites since then more sites have been added to said list. You might be thinking, so what? People made those movies and albums, they deserve to get paid. This is something I agree with. The counter argument is that even through the legitimate business models artists don’t get the pay they deserve. Not a great argument there but then live music is a lot of fun, no?

The High Court order failed pretty dismally to stop people illicitly watching and listening to things. A simple VPN circumvents those troublesome national borders. Now it has become apparent that HTTPS is making it even easier to raise the jolly roger.

The HTTPS issue is not new and it appears that many ISPs don’t have a countermeasure in place. According to our information, only Sky is structurally blocking secure versions of various pirate sites.

The precise technical explanation for the issue is unclear, but since HTTPS connections can strip HTTP headers it may be harder to detect that a blocked site is being accessed.

In theory ISPs could also block the site’s IP-addresses, but since many use shared IPs from CloudFlare this would also take down other unrelated websites. (TorrentFreak)

HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP which stands for ‘hyperlink text transfer protocol’. The S means that all information sent between your browser and the website is encrypted. It’s the protocol that gets used when doing online banking or shopping. So why not have that level of protection all the time? There is a plugin called HTTPS Everywhere developed by the Tor Project and the EFF which rewrites all requests and URLs to the secure version- keeping you safe.

Is Piracy Censorship or saving the industry?

The cost of piracy is difficult to measure. Supporters of acts like SOPA and PIPA argued that the cost is around $200 billion, yes with a ‘b’. More conservative estimates of $58 billion have their detractors too. One cannot assume that an illegal download of a movie would have a legal analog; there aren’t that many good movies around that people would be willing to pay for. Piracy as the death knell of the industry (pick one) has been touted since bootleggers went to concerts. The apocalyptic warnings from media company executives tend to forget one crucial thing. Humans love entertainment and being entertained. They won’t stop just because they don’t have a distributor.