Surprise! VPN Provider Expects Victory in Site-Block Arms Race

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Copyright holder and government efforts to stop people from accessing websites simply won't succeed according to the boss of a leading VPN provider. Speaking in the wake of the latest developments in Australia, CyberGhost chief Robert Knapp says those doing the blocking should consider the technical abilities of who they are taking on.

networkAfter years of pressure but mere months of deliberations, yesterday the Australian government imposed a new copyright law on its citizens.

As soon as it receives the formality of royal assent, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 will enter into force and soon after it’s expected that rightsholders will make their first moves to have a site blocked.

After the passing of the law yesterday a lot of furious people took to the web, many decrying the censorship and filtering efforts of the Australian government. But despite the outcry there are others who are not only relaxed about the upcoming efforts but also stand to profit handsomely from them.

They are of course VPN providers, services setup to cut through web-blockades and similar efforts like a hot knife through butter. They’re already extremely popular in Australia due to their geo-unblocking abilities and will now do even more business as a result of the country’s new law.

However, there are still those that remain concerned over the future of VPNs and their status as site-blocking kryptonite. Might the government eventually run out of patience and do a U-turn on assurances they won’t tackle the technology by blocking? Would it matter, practically, if they did?

Robert Knapp, chief executive at CyberGhost, one of the more popular VPN providers, doesn’t think so. He is calm, taking developments completely in his stride, and foresees no threat to his business.

“We see in general the same that you see in nature if somebody tries to block a river floating – the water finds his way,” Knapp says.

Despite attempts by the Australian Greens to have VPNs exempted from the new law, it is unlikely that services who play by the rules (i.e do not promote their products for infringing purposes) will be blocked. However, if the authorities want to test the waters, companies like CyberGhost will be up for the challenge.

“They should also then realize with whom they play in the same league,” Knapp says.

“Maybe they do it [blocking], maybe they don’t do it, it’s kind of a technical race. So it’s our daily business. They might do it, we will find a way to keep our servers running.”

While most people understand that blocking a determined service provider could descend into an endless arms-race, rightsholders are also keenly aware of the political fallout from attacking legitimate technologies.

“We didn’t intend this law to be used specifically against VPN because there are many legitimate uses of VPN and the intention of the law is not to stop people using the internet for legitimate purposes,” a Foxtel spokesperson told Mumbrella this morning.

And herein lies the problem. By driving traffic underground, into the encrypted tunnels of VPNs, rightsholders now have even less of an idea of who is pirating what and from where. VPNs are a legitimate but “dual use” technology, one that can be used for privacy or indeed piracy purposes. It’s a giant loophole that will be difficult to close. Nevertheless, companies like Foxtel say they will keep an developments.

“We would obviously be concerned if it meant there was a hole in the law,” the spokesman said. “We will be monitoring how things go and see if there is a serious issue in the future.”

So what next for Australia’s blocking regime?

If history from the UK repeats itself (and there’s every reason to believe that it will), rightsholders will first take on a site that is guaranteed to tick every ‘pirate’ box. That forerunner is almost certain to be The Pirate Bay, a site that is not only located overseas as the legislation requires, but one that also has no respect for copyright. The fact that it has been blocked in plenty of other regions already will be the icing on the cake.

Once the case against The Pirate Bay is complete then other “structurally similar” sites will be tackled with relative ease and since none of their operators will be appearing in court to defend themselves, expect the process to be streamlined in favor of copyright holders.

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