For more than a decade the Hadopi agency (High Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Rights on the Internet) was seen as the solution to BitTorrent-style peer-to-peer piracy in France.
Hadopi’s goal was to change the behaviors of the majority of French pirates. Ultimately, a preference among pirates for different technologies ended up taking the credit for that. With pirates drawn towards easy-to-use (but still illegal) streaming sites, Hadopi’s BitTorrent-focused anti-piracy toolkit had little chance of making an impact.
On January 1, 2022, France launched the Audiovisual and Digital Communication Regulatory Authority (ARCOM), which swallowed Hadopi and took on a number of challenges, fighting piracy being just one of them.
Arcom and Rightsholders Waste No Time
With Arcom supporting their every move, various rightsholders stepped up to take advantage of new legislation designed to make pirate site blocking more efficient, to combat mirror sites and proxies, and to further punish sites by restricting appearances in search engines and curtailing advertising opportunities.
A particular emphasis has been placed on protecting live sports such as football, with beIN obtaining the first new-style blocking order in January. European football association UEFA and broadcaster Canal+ later helped to maintain the momentum.
Arcom Reports Constant Success
Big things are expected from Arcom so it was no surprise when the agency reported immediate successes, especially on the site-blocking front.
In April, Arcom reported that 250 sports piracy sites had been blocked, together serving more than 60% of live sports piracy market in France. That certainly didn’t mean that blocking had wiped out more than 60% of the sports piracy market, it just meant that France had blocked some domains operated by 250 of the biggest sites.
In May, another announcement revealed that an additional 150 domains had been targeted, including an unspecified number that attempted to circumvent previously-imposed ISP blocking. The new law was designed with these countermeasures in mind and according to Arcom, things were going as planned.
Blocking Sites is Not Shutting Them Down
There’s no doubt that aggressive site blocking measures are a major inconvenience to pirate site operators. Some may conclude that countermeasures are no longer worth the effort, which in turn could deter others from getting into the piracy game. But there are some harsh realities too.
Site blocking is extremely easy to circumvent. By switching to a DNS provider outside the country (Cloudflare or Google, for example), French users can unblock sites in a couple of minutes, completely free of charge. An Arcom report published earlier this year noted that 19% of internet users had changed their DNS settings.
That figure from Arcom is worth repeating – 19% of internet users changed their DNS settings, not 19% of pirates changed their settings. That’s on top of an estimated 7% of French internet users who operated VPNs in 2021 and as a result are completely unaffected by site-blocking measures.
Perhaps even more importantly, site blocking does not take pirate sites offline. Indeed, site blocking is a direct response to anti-piracy groups being unable to take pirate sites offline, at least in any significant numbers. Nevertheless, Arcom mostly chooses to focus on big numbers and in some cases, incredibly big numbers.
France Achieves More in Six Months Than Any Country, Ever
After a relatively slow start when compared to Italy or the UK, by 2015 France had blocked 18 sites and has steadily added large batches ever since. However, since January 1, 2022, success rates have reportedly gone through the roof.
In April, Arcom reported (pdf) that France’s site-blocking efforts meant that the audience for the top 14 blocked sites could now be reported at -100%. In addition, site-blocking measures had caused piracy of Europe’s prestigious Champions League football competition to plummet by 76% in France. But more was to come.
In a speech this month to the French Senate’s Committee for Culture, Education and Communication, Arcom president Roch-Olivier Maistre noted that piracy of cultural and sports content costs France a billion euros per year. However, the new and “highly responsive” legal framework has new procedures to combat the threat, including those that accommodate the inherent urgency of blocking live sports piracy streams.
As a result, more than 700 sites have been blocked in France since January, with incredible effectiveness. According to Maistre, in the first six months of 2022, piracy of all live sports in France via the internet was slashed by 50% (pdf).
To put that into perspective, both the UK and Italy are engaged in some of the most aggressive site-blocking programs ever seen across Europe yet can’t get anywhere near the results reported by France. Live sports piracy is up in the UK and since 2019, consumption of live sports has increased by half in Italy.