Site-blocking to disrupt copyright infringement now takes place in dozens of countries around the world, with its supposed benefits currently being aggressively promoted to lawmakers in the United States.
Having been pioneered in the country more than a decade ago, site-blocking is old news in Denmark but is still one of the preferred methods to reduce access to ‘pirate’ sites. Indeed, according to a report published by leading anti-piracy group Rights Alliance, during 2019 alone it managed to have 141 sites blocked by the majority of ISPs in the country.
In tandem with other anti-piracy initiatives, this appears to have had a drastic effect on local visits to pirate sites. According to the group, in 2018 Danes visited pirate sites 239 million times yet in 2019, that figure was down to 146 million, an impressive 40 percent drop.
When copyright groups measure the effectiveness of blockades it’s worth noting that they often measure traffic levels to the domains that have been blocked. When nearly all ISPs in a country participate in blocking, which is the case in Denmark, there will quite clearly be a reduction in visits to those specific domains. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t still using them or, indeed, alternative platforms.
Indeed, Rights Alliance (RA) notes that despite the reductions in traffic to ‘pirate’ domains, a recent study revealed that the number of pirates in Denmark hasn’t reduced at all.
“According to Mediavision’s annual user behavior survey in the Nordic countries, the proportion of Danish 15 to 74-year-olds who download or stream movies and TV series is stable at 10 percent, which it has been since 2016. This corresponds to approximately 450,000 Danes using illegal sites annually,” RA notes.
“An explanation of the decreased number of visits, but the stable number of users, we partly attribute to the blocking effect, but other causal explanations are also available. Namely, the Mediavision study points out the Danes’ use of so-called VPN connections and the use of alternative DNS providers that allow the blocking to be bypassed.”
When questioned for the survey, 17% of Danish Internet users said they use a VPN. However, when the subset of self-confessed pirates were asked the same question, 44% admitted to using a VPN to access pirated movies. According to RA, this indicates that VPNs are widely used by pirates so the 40% drop in traffic to pirate sites could be overstated.
“The study thus shows that VPN connections are very widespread among those who stream and download illegally so their use of illegal websites is not included in the aforementioned 146 million visits. The figure may actually be higher,” RA adds.
The problem is replicated when looking at how Danish ISPs block their subscribers’ access to pirate sites. Court orders allow them to block by interfering with DNS but users are apparently well aware that if they switch to a DNS provider that isn’t run by their ISP but by OpenDNS or Google, for example, blocking can be bypassed.
“[S]o-called alternative DNS providers are also being used by more Danes who illegally download or stream movies and TV series than the general population,” RA reports.
“Ten percent of Danes who do not stream or download illegally have heard of alternative DNS providers, and out of them, 35 percent use them. If you look at the Danes who stream and download illegally, 23 percent have knowledge of DNS providers and as many as 97 percent use them.”
The end result is that despite widespread blocking and a headline drop in traffic to pirate sites, the number of pirate consumers remains stable, apparently undeterred by the measures. So the big question remains: what can be done to further reduce piracy levels?
On the blocking front, RA is pushing the concept of so-called ‘trusted notifiers’, i.e organizations or groups that have access to a streamlined blocking mechanism, preferably handled by a single court dealing with IP crime. Also on the table is potential action by SØIK, the State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime, which could require ISPs to block sites without a court process.
In respect of enforcement, Rights Alliance says that it has also identified a number of individuals who have “made extensive use of illegal services.” Data about them and their activities has been passed to the IP Task Force at SØIK but what will become of those referrals remains unclear.
The full report can be found here (Danish, pdf)