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Study Finds Mass UK ISP Piracy Website Blocking Pushes Users to Go Legal

Friday, June 5th, 2015 (9:23 am) - Score 1,106
banned from the internet cross

A new research paper from a three man team, which was based out of Carnegie Mellon University and Wellesley College in the USA, has found that forcing broadband ISPs to block individual piracy websites (e.g. The Pirate Bay) had little impact. But blocking a mass of 19 websites in one go did appear to drive UK Internet users towards legal alternatives.

The paper – ‘Effect of Piracy Website Blocking on Consumer Behaviour‘ – looked at two court-ordered events affecting consumers in the United Kingdom. 1) The original blocking order directed at The Pirate Bay in May 2012, and 2) blocking orders directed at 19 major piracy sites between October and November 2013.

As most of our readers will know, Right Holders have for several years now been able to harness Section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to secure mandatory “blocking orders” against the biggest Internet Service Providers (e.g. BT, Sky Broadband, EE, Virgin Media and TalkTalk).

The orders force ISPs to impose network-level style blocks (censorship) against related websites and any directly linked mirrors/proxy clones, although these are often easily circumvented by use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN), DNS changes or Proxy Servers.

The study itself is perhaps a little flaky because it focuses on the causal impact of the blocking, which is akin to very educated guess work. In short it attempts to identify the causal impact of the block by comparing “treated users” (those who used piracy sites before the block) with “control users” (those who did not). It’s also noted that the outcome, such as use of paid streaming channels or use of other piracy sites, might change over time for reasons other than the block.

Overall the results found that blocking a single site for Copyright Infringement, such as The Pirate Bay in 2012, “had little impact” on consumption through legal channels because related users simply switched to other sites or circumvented the block. But when 19 sites were blocked together the result was different, although it’s not clear how this changes over time.

Extract from the Report:

We observe that this caused some consumers to disperse to other piracy sites or to adopt technologies that allow circumvention of the block, we also find that these blocks caused users of the blocked sites to increase their usage of paid legal streaming sites by 12% [e.g. Netflix, Spotify etc.].

The lightest users of the blocked sites (and thus the users least affected by the blocks, other than the control group) increased their clicks on paid streaming sites by 3.5% while the heaviest users of the blocked sites increased their paid streaming clicks by 23.6%.

Thus, our results show website blocking may have a significant impact on legal consumption when multiple sites are blocked at once.

The study also appears to confirm that the most prolific pirates were also the ones most likely to adopt legal alternatives, although the research doesn’t really delve into this.

Otherwise the study is rather limited in that it only looks at a small portion of older blocking events and also focuses on legal streaming sites as the primary alternatives, although consumers might just as easily go to other locations when such blocks take hold (e.g. paid digital downloads via Amazon / iTunes or DVD/BluRay sales etc.).

In the case of streaming sites it’s also unclear whether the increased usage reflects new users or existing users who simply made greater use of them after the blocks. On top of that the study did not consider the social welfare implications, such as the cost of such blocks and whether users could afford the legal alternatives or were even old enough to subscribe etc.

But the biggest issue of all is that the study is not impartial because it was conducted as part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics (IDEA), which crucially receives unrestricted (gift) funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Rights Holders rarely fund any research that might be counter-productive to their cause.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar FibreFred

    Whatever effect it had will no doubt be temporary I’m sure, sounds like the MPAA trying to convince itself and others it works

  2. Avatar hmm

    legal content does not match the pirate content in content options i will stick with pirate thanks

  3. Avatar Darren

    MPAA is living in a dreamworld and no amount of self funded “research” will turn that dreamworld into reality.

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