Censorship is No Cure for Piracy, Legal Options Are

Opinion

A newly published peer-reviewed paper reveals that blocking pirate sites does nothing to halt piracy. The report was one of the reasons why the Dutch Pirate Bay blockade was reversed. Talking to TorrentFreak the researchers say that censorship is "ineffective," and that it "alienates" customers from the content industries.

pirate bayLast week the Dutch court of appeals ruled that The Pirate Bay blockade should be lifted. One of the arguments given was that the measures implemented in 2012 were ineffective.

This conclusion was in part based on a working paper from researchers at the University of Amsterdam and Tilburg University. After the publication of the paper this week in the Telecommunications Policy journal, TF caught up with the authors to discuss the results as well as the wider topic of Internet censorship.

The researchers are happy with the peer-reviewed publication. It affirms that BREIN’s attempts to defame their work during the court hearing were unfounded. The court already concluded as much, as the findings were at the basis of the ruling to unblock The Pirate Bay.

“Our research, together with research by TNO showed quite indisputably that the measure has little to no effect,” says Joost Poort, lead author of the Baywatch paper.

“We do not want to take sides in the case by calling the decision the right one in a legal sense. However, we are very content with the fact that the effectiveness of blocking access to The Pirate Bay was taken into account in the decision,” he adds.

The Baywatch paper shows that censoring The Pirate Bay had no lasting net impact on the overall number of downloaders from illegal sources in the Netherlands. On the contrary, local piracy rates went up.

According to the researchers the Pirate Bay blockade could be easily circumvented. Thanks to the many readily available proxy sites online, users only had to update their bookmarks to gain access.

“Basically, the required knowledge to circumvent the blocking is no more advanced than the knowledge required to download from illegal sources, and the emergence of new mirror-websites and proxies is something that regulators can hardly keep up with,” Poort tells TF.

Researcher Jeroen van der Ham adds that people could simply move to other torrent sites, or move to other download platforms. They found that, in line with previous research, the initial effect of such anti-piracy measures wears off in about six months, as people turn to alternatives.”

While the researchers focused on the Dutch public they believe that their results should apply elsewhere too. This includes the UK, where numerous file-sharing sites have been blocked in recent years.

“We believe that the results can probably be generalized to any service that has a widespread user-base. Internet users have shown to be very inventive in circumventing blockades, or moving to similar services if that is not possible,” Van Der Ham says.

Censoring websites has no lasting effects on piracy. On the contrary, the researchers say they these measures may reflect negatively on the image of the entertainment industries. At the same time, the blockades threaten the open Internet.

“These measures bear a risk of alienating customers from the content industries and giving them incentives to adopt covert technologies such as dark nets, IP-spoofing and VPN,” Poort tells us.

“The interventions threaten the transparency of the Internet, effectively introducing censorship, Van Der Ham adds.

So how should copyright holders combat piracy? According to the researchers there is some evidence in the literature that harsher punishments and strong enforcement may be effective.

However, this also introduces the risk that customers will become further alienated from the entertainment industries. This could result in more customers going “underground” and consuming even less. Ultimately, the researchers believe that the piracy problem can be best solved by offering superior legal options.

In their Filesharing 2©12 report Poort and colleagues saw a decline in file-sharing for music over recent years, while sharing films and TV series increased. They are currently analyzing this data set to find out whether a change in legal offerings may explain these developments.

“All in all, the best strategy seems to be to arrange reasonably priced, up-to-date and easy-to-use legal supply,” Poort concludes.

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