Earlier this month the major labels of the UK recording industry succeeded in having three major torrent sites blocked at the ISP level. KickassTorrents, H33T and Fenopy all disappeared from the screens of users not using a VPN or proxy, yielding some interesting results on the way. Data provided by Google suggests that not only did the blocks encourage a large fresh interest in other torrent sites and BitTorrent in general, official media outlets received more interest too.
Following a High Court ruling last month, six ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin Media, O2, EE and TalkTalk – were required to block subscriber access to three of the world’s largest torrent sites.
The legal action, initiated by the music industry group BPI on behalf of a variety of major labels, resulted in KickassTorrents (KAT.PH), H33T and Fenopy all becoming inaccessible directly in the UK.
As reported in our earlier article, the censorship encouraged an immediate interest in workarounds from users eager to regain access to the sites in question. Using the same Google tools, today we take a broader look at how UK search engine users reacted to the censorship.
Reaction to initial announcement that the sites would be blocked
Google data suggests that UK Internet users began to prepare for the blocking of the sites listed above as soon as news of the High Court order appeared on February 28. The search “top 10 torrent sites” became an instant smash hit.
General BitTorrent-related terms
As soon as the blockades were put in place, users showed a renewed interest in general BitTorrent related terms too. Searches for the term ‘utorrent’ and ‘torrent’ were boosted by about a third but as can be seen from the chart below, interest in ‘BitTorrent’ more than doubled over the previous week.
In our article last week we discussed how site-specific workarounds were drawing attention but as Google search data reveals, searches for the general term “proxy” also increased when the blocks were put in place.
As the next image shows, what former KAT, H33T and Fenopy users were perhaps most concerned about were finding alternatives. As a result, Google searches for “torrent sites” went through the roof.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, interest in specific domains was boosted too. Taking the top domains in our Top 10 Torrent Site list as examples (excluding those already censored in the UK) we see the following results.
Torrentz (blue) and isoHunt (red)
ExtraTorrent (blue) and 1337x (red)
So as we’ve seen from the above, it’s pretty clear that the censorship of KickassTorrents, H33T and Fenopy has resulted in increased attention for workarounds and alternative sites. But then does it follow that there has been no effect on interest in authorized stores?
Since the search “torrent sites” attracted so much interest, let’s pitch that against searches for a couple of music and movie giants. As we can see, they also received a boost.
Netflix (red) – iTunes (blue) – Torrent Sites (yellow)
We have to keep in mind that the above charts only show relative search performance. They don’t show actual traffic to sites and they certainly don’t give a solid indication of subsequent unauthorized media downloads or indeed purchases from sites such as iTunes and Netflix.
However, the blocks clearly do have a short-term effect on people’s interests but we’ll have to wait for a while to see if that converts into cash for the entertainment industries or yet more traffic for torrent sites.
Or – as appears to be the case whether you block sites or not – both.