Russia has firmly established itself as one of the leading countries utilizing site-blocking to counter content considered unfavorable by the state or corporate interests.
Many tens of thousands of platforms are blocked for many reasons, from the promotion of terrorism to copyright infringement. Every week new sites are added to the country’s national blacklist which local ISPs are required to frequently check in order to prevent their subscribers from accessing forbidden platforms.
Given that blocking is supposed to reduce piracy, new research from Russian anti-piracy company WebKontrol throws up a few interesting angles on this online war.
For example, the company says that in 2017, the number of torrent sites offering content to the Russian market sat at around 1,300. However, last year – in the face of overwhelming blocking measures – that number grew to around 2,000.
In 2018, torrent sites accounted for just over a fifth of the ‘pirate’ market (streaming platforms dominate with more than 70%) but due to multiple links to the same content appearing on most platforms, torrent links accounted for around 40% of the available links to pirated material.
Further underlining the importance of torrents, despite a smaller share of the market, the company reports that in 87% of cases, the first public copies of premiere titles appeared on torrent sites first, before spreading out to other platforms such as streaming and hosting sites.
“According to WebKontrol’s, data, out of various website types, the number of streaming resources had increased by 2% – from 69% to 71% [2017 v 2018] – which placed the streaming websites in the leading position,” the company told TF.
“The share of torrent-trackers has also increased by 3% – from 19% to 22%. At the same time, the analysts have noted that the number of link sites and cyberlockers went down from 5% to 3%, and from 6% to 3% respectively.”
In 2017, the number of pirate sites offering content to Russian audiences dropped by 10% but in 2018, WebKontrol detected a 43% increase, amounting to an additional 9,500 sites. But despite this bad news, overall piracy appears to have dipped slightly, with the huge increase in sites put down to site owners’ responses to Russia’s aggressive blocking system.
“The overall traffic of pirate sites is decreasing notwithstanding the fact that the number of such sites is growing rapidly. Presumably, the main reason for this is the newly created mirror sites,” WebKontrol CEO Olga Valigourskaia informs TorrentFreak.
“Administrators of the pirate resources tend to create mirror sites as quickly as possible after their original domains are blocked. Rights holders, on the other hand, instantly block these mirrors using an administrative procedure, so there is no chance for these sites to gain any significant traffic. Some pirates simply stop creating new mirrors after a few blocking procedures.”
Meanwhile, Russia is further investing in site-blocking with the introduction of a new system. Telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor reports that to date, 660 large telecoms operators have switched to a new mechanism which allows sites to be blocked more efficiently.
“The new mechanism allows service providers to receive data from the Unified Registry [national blacklist] for only updated or changed entries instead of downloading the entire data set,” Roscomnadzor reports.
“Earlier tests have shown that the time taken by operators to reduce access to prohibited resources is reduced from 30–40 minutes to 4–6 minutes.”
Adoption of the new system is not mandatory but given the importance of site-blocking to the Russian government, ISPs are being encouraged to make use of it in order to “increase the effectiveness of measures taken to limit access to illegal resources.”