Censoring Pirate Sites is Counterproductive, Research Finds

A new study has found that blocking access to torrent and linking sites results in the opposite effect. Instead of driving people towards legal websites and services, many of the blocked sites simply move to other domain names where they enjoy a significant and sustained boost in traffic.

stop-blockedRather than taking operators to court, copyright holders are increasingly relying on Internet providers to block ‘pirate’ domains.

Courts all around the world have ordered Internet providers to block subscriber access to various pirate sites, and in Italy this process is formalized through telecoms regulator AGCOM.

The idea behind these blockades is that they help to decrease online piracy. However, research increasingly suggests that this aim is not being fulfilled. In fact, a new study shows that blocking attempts may actually be counterproductive.

To find out whether blocking efforts are effective, University of Padua professor Giorgio Clemente decided to run a comprehensive analysis, comparing traffic data before and after the measures were implemented.

The research uses the same methodology as an earlier MPAA-commissioned study by Incopro which examined UK blockades. However, instead of merely looking at the blocked domains, Professor Clemente also took domain name changes into account because site operators commonly switch domains to bypass censorship efforts.

The results are quite revealing and show that Government-sanctioned blockades actually increase traffic to the targeted sites.

“The most important conclusion is that blocking access to websites increases their popularity,” Professor Clemente tells TF. “In particular, AGCOM helps to advertise pirated works, creating the classic and well-known Streisand effect.”

The data clearly shows that Italian search engine traffic to most of the targeted sites gets a boost, creating a consequent increase in piracy rather than a decline.

In many cases the websites simply switched to a new domain name to evade the blocking efforts. Cineblog01.net, for example, moved to a .li domain name and as a result of the attention the site received from the blocking efforts, search engine traffic spiked more than 1000%.

“AGCOM’s blocking measures have actually increased the site’s popularity, which went from 106,000 Italian search engine visitors in March 201 to 2,294,000 users a year later,” the report reads, adding that this caused a spike in piracy activity.

The same pattern was observed for other sites. Limetorrents, for example, saw Italian search engine traffic increase from 9,000 to 162,000 a few months later after, as shown below.

Limetorrents traffic increase

limeagcom

The measures also helped to promote previously unknown sites. TorrentDownloads had no Italian visits before the blocking measures but started to see traffic coming in after AGCOM put the site on its blocklist.

The full report lists a total of 27 sites which nearly all increased their visitor numbers. This leads to the overall conclusion that the time and money invested in the measures is wasted.

“The resources and energy which Internet providers put into the blocking efforts are completely unjustified, and so are the copyright protection activities of AGCOM, given the obvious ineffectiveness of the measures,” the report reads.

Professor Clemente notes that his research confirms a recent study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, which reached a similar conclusion regarding the shutdown of the popular movie streaming portal Kino.to

Italian lawyer Fulvio Sarzana, who represented the owners of several blocked websites, says the report confirms what many people already expected.

“The research by the University of Padua shows what everyone already knows: administrative copyright enforcement by blocking access to websites is an unnecessary and harmful waste time,” he tells TF.

The controversial AGCOM measures are up for a review at the Italian Constitutional Court later this year which will look at whether they limit people’s right to free expression. If the court rules the measures unlawful, Sarzana says that the affected sites may be entitled to a substantial damage claim for being unfairly blocked.

However, taking the results of Professor Clemente into consideration there’s little damage to complain about.

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