“Perfect” Piracy Shield & Propaganda: Blocking Blunders Branded “Fake News”

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Just three weeks after launch, Italy's Piracy Shield blocking system is set for expansion. The news was revealed by the head of AGCOM and local anti-piracy group FAPAV, who also addressed media reports that overblocking is already affecting innocent parties. Those media reports, published by reputable outlets, were dismissed as "fake news." In reality, the claim that Piracy Shield is "working perfectly" isn't just fake, it's pure propaganda.

Logo piracy shieldItaly’s Piracy Shield blocking platform is the mechanism through which sports rightsholders exercise their right to use state-approved tools in their fight against IPTV piracy.

In common with other systems in use around Europe, Piracy Shield acts on information provided by rightsholders. After identifying the target to be blocked, domain names and IP addresses are fed into the Piracy Shield system.

From there, data is pumped directly to the nation’s ISPs who must block or risk financial penalties.

Given that Piracy Shield cannot function without human input, when we refer to Piracy Shield here that means the entire chain. From data collection and approval for entry, through to actual blocking, regardless of whether any component is software, hardware, or human.

Who Benefits From Overblocking?

Pirates aside, two broad pools of people participate in site-blocking debates: those who understand the internet and the fallibility of human beings, and those who are equally aware of the risks but have an overriding and extremely urgent piracy problem to solve.

The concerns of the former include the not insignificant risk of innocent platforms being blocked in error. Such overblocking can be triggered by a simple typo or something more complex, a pirate site sharing an IP address with one or more completely innocent sites, for example.

Similar concerns are shared by rightsholders and anti-piracy groups; nobody ever reduced piracy by blocking innocent sites and no anti-piracy group’s work has ever been made easier by a belligerent mob shouting about censorship.

Given that a high-paced, dynamic environment virtually guarantees at least some mistakes, debating the inevitable isn’t anywhere near as important as finding out what went wrong, improving the system, and if required, having a discussion about it.

Piracy Shield “Works Perfectly”

During an appearance on Sky TG24 by AGCOM commissioner Massimiliano Capitanio and Federico Bagnoli Rossi, president of anti-piracy group FAPAV, it was revealed that since the launch of the Piracy Shield platform, there have been no overblocking blunders whatsoever.

Yet media reports published by DDAY.it and Wired recently, both contained sufficient evidence to mount a credible and, in at least one case, publicly verifiable argument directly to the contrary.

So did the publications both make blunders of their own? Is it feasible that they independently decided to report instances of collateral damage, against innocent web entities, without evidence or regard for the truth?


A text excerpt from the TV show published by Libero.it begins by stating that AGCOM and FAPAV give the Piracy Shield system “full marks” based on its work thus far and that any reports of “friendly fire” blocking should be considered “fake news.”

“This is absolutely false and unfounded news,” states Capitanio. “Since the launch of the platform no DNS or IP address holder has made a request to AGCOM, as required by law, to have a site rehabilitated. There is a procedure for those who report that is so rigorous, I am not aware of any public administration sites being blocked in recent weeks.”

In other words, since AGCOM received no complaints of wrongful blocking from anyone wrongfully blocked, it must follow that no wrongful blocking took place. Whether the two publications mentioned above now consider their reporting debunked seems unlikely.

Similar stories are regularly discussed among workers at the country’s ISPs and associated entities. The so-called “rigorous” complaints procedure is mostly mocked for its critical failings.

Rigorously Impossible to Complain

After spending the last two weeks in the virtual company of people who keep Italy’s internet running, one thing is beyond doubt: how the system is being portrayed in public does not align with facts on the ground.

Workers at Italy’s ISPs and closely related companies don’t seem entirely consumed by the imposition of Piracy Shield on their businesses, but they are showing signs of frustration.

Many feel they have no voice and after AGCOM and FAPAV appeared on TV, unhindered by the views of the IT workers compelled to make blocking happen, it was immediately understood that bickering among themselves in public would’ve “spoiled the advertorial.”

Others chimed in on the rigorous complaint procedure referenced by AGCOM that, through its own basic failings, effectively doesn’t exist.

Instant Blocking on Tap (No Instant Undo)

The image below shows summaries of three recent orders for full and perpetual blocking to be administered through the Piracy Shield platform. The full orders are also available and can make for interesting reading.

Piracy Shield Orders

But while commendably detailed in almost every respect, a decision has clearly been made to list only a single domain (some with subdomains) in each order to identify the platform authorized for blocking. Once an order is published there is a five-day window of opportunity for a complainant to file a complaint.

AGCOM block complaint1

The text here shows that this option is useless for those wrongfully blocked; it seems highly unlikely that an unknown third party would receive a copy of an order in advance of Piracy Shield accidentally blocking them. That raises the prospect of a blocked innocent third party having to a) proactively discover that their connectivity has been limited b) isolate the problem to Italy c) discover the existence of AGCOM d) learn Italian and e) find the blocking order relating to them.

Don’t Get Too Optimistic

Awkwardly, and after all that detective work, the domains of innocent third parties do not appear in blocking orders for obvious reasons. That may suggest that they have been unlawfully blocked, especially since the regulations and Piracy Shield policy disallow any blocking of innocent parties.

In any event, overblocking is almost always the result of other things, such as shared IP addresses, which also do not appear in the orders published by AGCOM. While AGCOM does publish aggregated figures for IP addresses blocked after the initial order, zero IP addresses are published in public.

Since IP addresses don’t appear in initial orders, they can only appear in ‘subsequent reports’. The good news here is that those allowed to complain can at least try to file a complaint if they’re negatively affected. They must do that within five days of the ‘subsequent report’ (containing the IP addresses) being published on the AGCOM site.

There are some issues with that logic, however. First, AGCOM doesn’t publish subsequent reports. Second, a complaint will not stop the blocking.

subsequent report

Third, and probably most importantly, wherever the complaint procedure is mentioned, only recipients of a blocking order are specifically mentioned as qualified to complain.

That raises the prospect of pirate IPTV providers – immaculately reported to AGCOM for scrutiny before being deemed illegal by the regulator – being allowed to file a complaint. Those who have done absolutely nothing wrong, on the other hand, are treated as if they don’t even exist.

Of course, since they don’t even exist, filing complaints can be tricky. And, as established earlier, if there are no complaints that leads to the clear conclusion mentioned on TV: there has been no overblocking and any news to the contrary is fake.

‘Everyone Breaks The Rules’

This remarkable system “is a shit show” from beginning to end, a source familiar with it informs TF. There’s even a sarcastic suggestion that everyone abiding by the rules and regulations could bring the entire system down.

First, the law that disallows blocking of legitimate servers doing the legitimate work of legitimate third parties, is being violated. That means legitimate users are blocked, maybe in violation of their basic human right to send and receive information.

Second, information about blocks that should be published to facilitate correction of blunders, is not being published, also in violation of the regulations. Finally, we’re informed that some ISPs, having seen the mess, have decided to unblock some IP addresses without permission from those who initiated the mess, thus contravening the rules themselves.

One IT worker also expressed an interest in appearing on TV during the next debate but expects the spot to be scooped up by an ISP that also sells TV subscriptions.


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