Struggle Against Piracy Losing Ground

There has been a recent flurry of anti-piracy activity on the internet. It seems that film and music piracy has been getting hit with constant 1-2 punches for some time. From the owner of Wawa-Mania, Dimitri Mader, getting fined $12.8 million payable to Hollywood, and $4.4 million to the music industry, plus a year in jail; to the founders of pirate bay, who also had a stay in prison, and have yet to pay the $5.4 million they were fined in 2006 (with interest, the bill now stands at $10 million).

As these types of cases gain popularity, governments have been making it increasingly easy to prosecute and ban piracy sites. In Australia, the passing in June of the Copyright Amendment Act of 2015 gives copyright holders the power to petition the court to force internet service providers (ISP) to block websites whose “primary purpose” is to “facilitate” the sharing of pirated content.

Fighting Fire with Gasoline

The lack of efficacy is a big problem with the current approach to block piracy websites.

Incopro conducted a MPAA commissioned study to determine how effective the domain blocking strategy is in the UK. It found that after being blocked the sites reported a 73% loss of website traffic.

That sounds like a large chunk of traffic. However, the study didn’t take into account 3 key situations: dedicated mirror sites of the blocked site, sites offering more than one domain name, and traffic to these sites using a VPN.

It’s a safe bet that there is a large percentage of users hidden by VPNs, mirror sites, and alternate domain usage. Incopro did measure how much of the traffic was directed through proxies, the result was more than half, as evidenced by the chart below.

block site proxy usage in UK

In contrast, professor Girorgia Clemente of the University of Padua recently did a study in a similar manner (in Italy) as the Incopro study- except that he took domain change, which is a common trick to bypass laws, into account. What he found is what most people suspected. After being blocked, nearly all of the sites in the study had an increase in activity.

AGCOM is the governing body of telecoms (in Italy) and is responsible for issuing the orders to block websites.

One example,, changed its domain to .li name as a result of being blocked and got a 1000% increase in traffic, the report states:

AGCOM’s blocking measures have actually increased the site’s popularity, which went from 106,000 Italian search engine visitors in March [2011] to 2,294,000 users a year later.

There’s no telling how many additional users accessed the site through a VPN, or dedicated mirror site.

In yet another study completed by the European Commission, the same conclusion was reached. They found that blocking sites (particularly the largest piracy related bust in history) only led to a 2.5% increase in legal sales. The study concluded that factoring in the costs incurred by shutting down the site, the endeavor had an overall negative impact.

The European commission even went so far as to point out a hydra effect. Where the huge hole left in the piracy market opened the door for several more pirate sites to spring up: “This potentially makes future law enforcement interventions either more costly – as there would not be a single dominant platform to shutdown anymore – or less effective if only a single website is targeted by the intervention.”

Israel is perhaps the first place to catch on to this. They recently reversed their decision to block the increasingly popular “Netflix for pirates” app, Popcorn Time.

In the reversal, the judges wrote:

“…blockage or shutting down Popcorn Time sites does not guarantee that the application can no longer be downloaded… the benefit of the requested measures is minimal, if any…The cost of making ISPs some kind of censorship authority is at least equivalent, if not higher, than the cost of copyright infringement.

The Cost of Blocking Piracy Sites

Most of the studies mention the costs incurred on the ISPs to block these sites. What exactly is the cost?

Thanks to a ruling in favor of luxury brand, Richemonte, to block sites containing counterfeit products in the UK in 2014 we have some idea. The initial cost, is £14,000 ($21,500).

The aforementioned company, Incopro, also operates ‘Blockwatch’, which continues to monitor IP addresses and domain changes for blocked websites. This, of course, costs money too, approximately £3,600 ($5,500) per year, per website. That’s £169,000 ($259000) per year to continually block the current list of 47 piracy websites.

Add that to the fact that ISPs in Australia, under the new law, will not have to pay these costs: and now you have citizens paying for censorship that only large corporations want to impose.

If You Can’t Beat ’em

Given all of this, it may be time for entertainment to rethink their strategy.

Some artists are.

David Guetta is one of them. The DJ probably has more of a purist view of his work than most entertainers when he says, “I just want people to have access to my music. If there was no piracy, why can I sell out 20,000 people everyday in Brazil? Is it because of how many records I sell in the shop? Of course not.”

Furthermore, across the globe, the prices that the large corporations charge for their product is unreasonable. The sticker price of $15 for a legal copy of a popular film, like The Dark Knight, might be reasonable in the US and UK; but in Russia, a similar sticker price is equivalent to a westerner paying $75 for the movie. If that was the case I can assure you that online downloads in the US and UK would be significantly greater than it is now.

It’s time to get rid of the ‘piracy’ stigma and embrace it as a legitimate competitor- after all that’s what Netflix already does. And as David Guetta says, “You can’t fight progress, so you better embrace it.”

What do you think about piracy: should governments continue to attempt to block these kinds of websites? If so, is there a better way to go about it? What would be the consequences if large corporations began treating these sites as competitors and offered lower prices?

feature image courtesy of wikimedia commons.

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