Pirate Site Blocking Boosts Legal Consumption, Research Finds

Home > Piracy Research >

A new study has found that pirate site blocking in Brazil and India boosted legal consumption. The non-peer-reviewed research confirms previously published findings that were limited to the UK. The effects on unblocked pirate sites are mixed, however, and whether the increased interest in legal content lasts over longer periods has yet to be researched.

blockedIn recent years, website blocking has become one of the most widely-used anti-piracy enforcement mechanisms in the world.

ISPs in several dozen countries prevent subscribers from accessing a variety of ‘pirate’ sites. New blocks are added every month and rightsholders are actively lobbying to expand the measure to the United States.

While site blocking is by no means a panacea, copyright holders are convinced that it has a notable effect and have research to back this up.

Piracy Blocking Research

One of the earliest pieces of peer-reviewed academic research, based on UK data, showed that the local Pirate Bay blockade had little effect on legal consumption. Instead, pirates turned to alternative pirate sites, proxies, or VPNs to bypass the virtual restrictions.

A follow-up study added more color and brought good news for rightsholders. The research found that once a large number of sites were blocked in the UK, overall pirate site traffic decreased. At the same time, the researchers observed an increase in traffic to legal services such as Netflix.

The latter findings are frequently cited in policy discussions around site blocking. While the results are solid, they are limited too. They only apply to the UK situation, for example, and the long-term effects of site-blocking efforts on piracy and legal consumption are missing.

New Findings: India

A new non-peer-reviewed working paper published by Chapman University and Carnegie Mellon University researchers aims to fill the first gap. Using similar methodology to that seen in the earlier UK study, the researchers studied the effects of blocking in India and Brazil.

The working paper

blocking study

In India, the researchers studied two separate blocking waves. The first took place in December 2019, when 380 piracy websites were blocked. The second wave was implemented in September 2020, when Indian ISPs blocked 173 additional piracy sites.

The researchers checked browsing data to see if the blocks were effective and whether pirates switched to unblocked sites. Visits to legal video entertainment services, including Netflix and Hotstar, were monitored as well.

The results of these studies largely replicate the UK findings. The first Indian blocking wave triggered an 8.1% increase in visits to legal sites, and the second wave led to a 3.1% increase. There was no statistically significant increase in visits to unblocked pirate sites.

Overall, the Indian findings suggest that site blocking can increase legal consumption without driving traffic to other, unblocked pirate sites.

New Findings: Brazil

Next, the researchers turned their attention to Brazil, where 174 piracy sites were blocked in July 2021. Using a similar research design, they found that these pirate site blocks resulted in a 5.2% increase in visits to paid streaming websites.

Unlike in India, there was a significant increase in traffic to unblocked pirate sites in Brazil. This is similar to the ‘dispersion’ effect that was previously found in response to UK blockades.

[I]n Brazil we found that blocking 174 piracy sites caused a statistically significant increase in visits to unblocked piracy sites, in essence dispersing some piracy,” the researchers write.

‘Pirate Site Blocking Works’

These findings suggest that the positive effects of pirate site blocking are not limited to the UK. This will be music to the ears of rightsholders who wish to expand pirate site blocking globally, with the US as the ‘holy grail’.

“[The research] provides evidence that website blocking in Brazil and India in 2019, 2020, and 2021 has a similar effect as it did in the UK in 2013 and 2014, despite the fact that during that intervening time the landscape of piracy and legal consumption has changed significantly.

“In short, our results suggest that piracy website blocking remains an effective strategy for increasing legal consumption of copyrighted content,” the researchers add.

While the latest study isn’t peer-reviewed separately, it indeed confirms the earlier findings. That said, piracy research is dynamic and never complete, so many questions remain unanswered.

More (Lasting) Conclusions?

One question that remains concerns the lasting effect on behavior. The studies above only measure consumption patterns in the span of a few months, and it’s possible that some pirates eventually relapse.

Brett Danaher of Chapman University, the lead author of the paper, recognizes this shortcoming. Ideally, he would like to do more longitudinal research but obtaining that type of data is not easy.

“The biggest challenge there is finding a panel company that tracks a consistent set of users for longer periods of time,” Danaher tells TorrentFreak.

“With the companies we’ve been working with, the size of the panel shrinks exponentially as we ask for longer panels. It’s a real challenge.”

The researcher mentions that there is a study that found that the effects of blocking measures are short-lived, but that only applies to a single site, Kino.to. This ‘relapse’ finding was later supported by an Italian study, that included over two dozen sites.

Danaher further explained that the latest study wasn’t peer-reviewed because it’s a replication study. The research uses the same methodology as the previously published UK study, which was peer-reviewed and published in MIS Quarterly.

“Our thought was that there was useful information in this study and the methodology itself has already undergone peer review, but the peer review process for this paper would have taken a lot of time with little probability of landing in a premier journal.”

MPA Funding

Finally, it should be noted that this new India/Brazil study, like previous ones, is carried out as part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics (IDEA). The initiative is partly funded by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) which is the driving force behind many global site blocking efforts.

The MPA has sent unrestricted gifts to IDEA center since 2012, totaling several million dollars. In recent years, the gift amounted to $1 million annually.

There is no evidence that the research findings are in any way influenced by this funding, of course. The connected researchers have repeatedly pointed out that they operate completely independently, which Danaher confirms.

“To me, the top value of the center is that it allows me to sometimes access data to which I otherwise would not have access but protects me from outside influences,” Danaher notes, using the movie industry sales figures that were used in a Megaupload study as an example

“In other words, once I get studio data through the IDEA Center for a particular project, I am guaranteed the ability to publish my results for that paper regardless of what they say,” he adds.

Danaher, Brett and Sivan, Liron and Smith, Michael D. and Telang, Rahul, The Impact of Online Piracy Website Blocking on Consumer Choices (February 12, 2024). Available at SSRN.


Popular Posts
From 2 Years ago…