Proposal Suggests Browsers Should Block Users From BitTorrent Sites

As the United States heads off firmly down the domain seizures route, other countries around the world are also considering how best to deal with the issue of online piracy. Blocking sites via the web's DNS system has been high on the agenda but doubts exist over its effectiveness. A suggestion coming out of Europe this week would mean that malware filtering in web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome would do the dirty work.

For years the entertainment industries’ have been attacking services that provide access to illicit content, such as Napster, Kazaa, LimeWire or any one of the now-defunct BitTorrent trackers. These efforts have run in parallel with trying to scare users away from such sites.

In recent times, however, it has become increasingly clear that these strategies aren’t working. Suing Internet users proved both ineffective and counter-productive and sites like The Pirate Bay, isoHunt and Newzbin simply refuse to give in, despite the studios throwing millions of dollars away trying to destroy them.

So, if sites are to remain online and users refuse to stop accessing them, it’s time for a new plan – get in the middle of sites and their users and physically stop them from communicating with each other.

In the UK, while the faltering Digital Economy Act stumbles around in its own mess, discussions behind the scenes are focused on the entertainment companies and ISPs formulating a voluntary code to have domain names conveniently blocked.

UK communications watchdog Ofcom is currently considering whether or not website blocking is actually feasible, but other countries who already have experience of such measures have decided that it probably isn’t. One of those is Denmark, a country already subjected to court-ordered ISP DNS blocks of both The Pirate Bay and Russian MP3 vendor, AllofMP3.com, various foreign gambling sites and illicit pharmaceutical vendors.

This week, an MPs consultation on blocking sites has been underway in Denmark. There was a broad consensus that DNS blocking is easily circumvented and is therefore not a viable solution to the problem. So where is there left to go?

During the consultation, Niels Elgaard Larsen, Chairman of the IT-Political Association, suggested an alternative – enhanced browser malware filtering.

“We know of course that when Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome visits a page with a virus, we get a warning that there is virus on the site. This is not filtered by the network, but by browser vendors who maintain lists of viral sites, which then sit in the browser,” Larsen subsequently told Computerworld.

“One must of course be critical of suppliers’ blacklists, but it is much smarter that users have a list of banned sites in their browsers because the approach both warns users and respects their privacy,” he added.

Who has the authority to place domains on such a list is a whole new can of problematic worms, but the idea has received cross-party support with Liberal IT spokesman Michael Aastrup-Jensen suggesting that the issue should be raised at the EU level. To have the required effect, he added, agreement and support must be sought from, among others, the United States.

Of course, the United States has its own take on the issue. Rather than blocking domain names it has simply been seizing them, but even that hasn’t had the required effect.

It’s not inconceivable, however, if one looks far enough down the road and amalgamates the UK, Danish and US approaches (voluntary blocking, court-ordered DNS blocks, enhanced ‘malware’ type web browser blocks and domain seizures) it could become quite difficult to access many piracy-related domains.

But this statement is only true for the layman and no matter what route is taken, ways around these blocks will be found by the tech-savvy. Indeed, it’s an absolute certainty that new products and services will appear immediately to circumvent all of these measures.

So as they look to their ideal future of an Internet filtered in their favor, the entertainment industries will find their magic numbers when taking the numbers of subscribers who can’t understand or be bothered learning how to get around blocks, and adding up how many of those will head off to authorized media sources instead. Will it be worth all the effort?

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