Blocking Torrent Sites Won’t Curb Piracy – Here’s Why

Blocking Torrent Sites Won’t Curb Piracy – Here’s Why

As you’re doubtlessly aware, the Senate passed controversial anti-piracy legislation, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, this week. While rights holders are rejoicing, it’s not so clear whether the legislation will actually achieve its stated ends of reducing piracy, and it might be easily circumvented by the public. Ultimately, a re-thinking of media companies’ business models is needed.

Despite the bill being passed in both the House of Representatives and Senate, Labour MP Ed Husic and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam have spoken publicly about their concerns about the legislation.

Husic argued that the bill “favours the interests of rights holders over consumers” and “doesn’t actually deal with the way of getting that content to people in much more efficient means”. Ludlam echoed this, stating: “This is what happens when you get a government that only listens to one side of the argument – the public interest gets left in the dust.”

The legislation is an attempt by the government to curb piracy in Australia. It was backed by industry groups such as the Australian Film and Television industries. Brett Cottle, from the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA AMCOS), has argued that the industry had been “bled dry” by piracy.

This issue gained prominence after the Online Copyright Infringement Discussion Paper was leaked by Crikey last year. More recently, the ongoing legal case involving the Dallas Buyers Club and iiNet has again raised questions of piracy in Australia.

Does the new law solve more problems than it creates?

The intention is to curb online piracy, particularly of music, television and films. This is an area in which Australia has become a leader. But the legislation curbs piracy at what costs to consusmers?

The proposed annual estimated cost to carriage service provider (CSPs) of $130,825 for implementing the law’s requirements will arguably be passed onto consumers through the pricing of internet services.

There are also question around the abuse of such powers and the content that the legislation could block.

Matthew Rimmer, intellectual property academic, has raised concerns about how this could be “abused in a variety of different ways in terms of engaging in censorship or trying to engage in rent seeking”. He suggests that sites like Wikileaks could fall foul of these laws.

Even if a site is blocked, Australians might bypass the restriction by many means. One is already used by many Australians: Virtual Private Network (VPN) geo-blockers. These hide the user’s geographic location, thus bypassing any regional blocks.

More than 200,000 Australians have already used services such as these to access Netflix prior to the company’s launch in Australia. Mumbrella reported recently that more than 680,000 Australian households use this technology to access video content, not all for piracy.

But the media industry has a different perspective on the use of such technologies. In the Mumbrella article, Andrew Maiden, Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA) chief executive, compared the use of VPNs to “getting around that a supermarket has a faulty checkout where you can take goods out without paying for them”. He added that just because it’s possible to circumvent a law, that doesn’t make it right to do so.

Does it actually work?

Australian media organisations argue they are doing their bit to combat piracy by making content legally available. In a Copyright Act inquiry earlier this year Foxtel’s Bruce Meagher argued that the company was doing its bit by releasing content at the same time it was released in the US and at a competitive price.

What is not considered here is that Foxtel has a relatively small penetration rate in the Australian market, at only 30%. This is far less than the pay-TV penetration in the US (84%) and UK (50%). So even if Foxtel releases content sooner, most Australians still don’t have access to it unless they sign up for a pay TV account, which might include many channels and programs they’re not interested in.

However, during the Copyright Act inquiry, Christopher Chard from Village Roadshow Films noted that traffic from the UK to a piracy site diminished significantly once the site was blocked in that country. This is despite some people in the UK using VPNs to still access that site.

In the UK more than 100 websites have been blocked since similar legislation was introduced in 2012. A report by Incorpro found a 73.2% decrease in traffic after the introduction of site blocking in the UK However, the report also found a boost in traffic to other sites that hosted pirated material. There are also some questions about the methodology of the report, and whether it accurately tracks traffic to blocked sites, particularly over VPN.

On the other hand, there is evidence of piracy decreasing when content is made available to the consumer legally. For example, there is evidence of a decline in piracy when Netflix enters a particular region.

Netflix arrived in Australia this year. Given that many of the programs acquired illegally by Australians include many of those available on Netflix, one might expect piracy rates here to decline as well.

Who should change to fight piracy?

This year Fremantle Media announced that it will no longer be removing any pirated clips of American Idol. Instead it has found a way to profit from those fan-uploaded YouTube clips of its program.

According to Variety, the company has partnered with BroadbandTV to identify and manage user-uploaded content on YouTube for more than 200 shows, including American Idol, The Price Is Right, America’s Got Talent, Baywatch and The X Factor.

Olivier Delfosse, COO of Fremantle Media, stated that:

When we see a fan of our show who has gone through the hassle of uploading (content from) it, it’s not an indication of them stealing from us – we see it as fan loyalty […] It doesn’t matter if we upload the official clip or a user does – the value to the advertiser is the same.

Is legislation that blocks so-called piracy sites really the solution to the problem associated with online piracy? It doesn’t solve the most common issue raised by Australians: legal and fairly priced access to the content they want to watch.

Ultimately, it’s more likely that solutions such as those offered by Fremantle Media and Netflix and a re-thinking of media companies’ business models, will eliminate piracy rather than heavy-handed top-down legislation, which is also relatively trivial to bypass.

The ConversationMarc C-Scott is Lecturer in Digital Media at Victoria University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


  • Kudos to Fremantle Media. Internet buzz about a show and fan-uploaded clips are basically free advertising – word of mouth spreads so much further now. And fans spend money like no one’s business. Fans sharing videos clips does no harm to the company, and usually brings in new people.

    Nothing’s ever going to completely stamp out piracy. Back when you needed complex systems, or at least two expensive vcrs to copy content, you could still pick up pirate videos here and there. And now that people are used to having it as an option, they’re going to keep finding ways around the protections and the blocking. Every time they shut down a torrent site, five more are going to pop up, and honestly, the only sensible solution is to reduce the motivation.

    And the ridiculous thing is…if they do that, everyone wins. Which makes the current reluctance all the more confusing.

    • I’m new to all this news, so I don’t know all the facts, but IF the “blocking” is really just alterations to our Australian DNS servers, then that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.

      • What other options are there though?
        Deep packet inspection/https decryption would have people going apeshit and slow things down to a crawl, not to mention the cost of implementing.

        I’m guessing ISP’s will do enough to meet the bare minimum as they have no incentive to spend more money with no return. Except maybe Telstra, because they are douches and in bed with Foxtel.

      • Based on what I’ve seen of these kinds of blockages overseas, this is exactly how they do it. Change to google’s dns, problem solved.

        • Changing your dns server won’t do anything. Source: I live in the uk and use google dns

  • Not sure how they get the figures of how many people use VPN’s.

    This feels like they are just sweeping the problem under the rug, all its going to do is push down loaders deeper underground where they cant be monitored, and the government gets to say the issue has been solved.

    Out of sight, out of mind.

    • They can get a good idea by comparing a list of known VPN IPs to accounts hitting their server.
      For home grown VPNs they can look at IPs that aren’t allocated to residential accounts (for example if an IP is attached to a webhost and it’s hitting netflix it’s likely to be either a VPN or other form of proxy (socks etc).

  • It’s telling that the child porn block didn’t pass but this one did. Tells you everything you need to know about Australian politics.

    • That’s because the more savvy short-eyes act in concert. As is true with other conspiratorial groups, like the Freemasons or Skull & Bones, they seek opportunities to burrow into positions that allow them to prevent actions antithetical to their own perceived interests. Thus, attaining the chairmanship of a particular legislative committee or sub-committee, or regulatory body, or even a senior staff position, can afford them the chance to subvert rational action against them.

  • Why are we all being considered as pirates? I pay for all my digital content and I do find geoblocking a very frustrating concept. Most importantly, I’d just like some privacy when I’m using the internet… And again, I stress that wanting to encrypt my internet traffic through a VPN doesn’t mean I’m a pirate or a criminal!

    • Privacy and the internet don’t go together. For the internet to work, some information which identifies your device (IP address) must be sent.

  • “getting around that a supermarket has a faulty checkout where you can take goods out without paying for them”
    How is it that this man is actually paid money for this drivel ?
    (Strong curse words ahead, avoid reading if you’re a sensitive little flower.)
    This is what fucks me off about these arseholes.
    We asked for content for years, and at a reasonable price, and they have only just got round to providing it, despite it being available for years overseas.
    Then, when we shop around, as is our right to do so, we’re labelled as thieves.
    Nobody is stealing the content you fucktard, they are paying for it, just not at your hiked up prices. If you had a spine and a pair of balls, you’d renegotiate with Liberty Media the purchase rates, but instead you simply take it from them bent over the desk, and expect us to do the same.
    So, fuck you ASTRA, fuck you Foxtel.
    You will NEVER get my money, ever because of your bloody minded attempts to curtail the freedom of the public to choose an alternative.
    You like the capitalism model when it works for you, but not so much when someone kicks you repeatedly in the balls because you’re too fucking stupid to compete.
    Why don’t you just fuck off to China, it’s more in line with what you want.

    In essence, getting tired of the nasal whining from these dicks, because they are completely unable to capture the market through imagination and innovation.

  • …compared the use of VPNs to “getting around that a supermarket has a faulty checkout where you can take goods out without paying for them”.
    Let’s play around with that analogy – maybe this is at a supermarket where, once you get to the end of the very long queue for the checkout, the cashier grumbles at you for interrupting their day and then arbitrarily adds 20-50% onto the ticket price for the items in your trolley. Instead, there are a bank of self-serve checkouts signed “Do Not Use”, one of which will let you pay nothing. Piracy might be that one checkout – VPNs are the remainder, where you can go through and pay the actual ticket price of the items in the cart.

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