During 2014, several key strategies emerged to lead the mainstream entertainment industries’ anti-piracy efforts. At the consumer end, so-called “strikes” programs saw errant Internet subscribers receive warning notices in an effort to correct their behaviors.
Then, on top of sending millions of DMCA-style takedown notices to sites and search engines, entertainment companies went to court in several regions to have domains blocked at the ISP level. The UK was hit particularly hard and now dozens of sites are inaccessible via regular means.
But the big question remains – is this an effective way to reduce piracy? Earlier this year the movie studios decided to find out by hiring a company called Incopro to conduct a study. The report has never been made public but TorrentFreak has now obtained a copy.
The report, titled ‘Site Blocking Efficacy Study United Kingdom’ is dated September 30, 2014 and focuses on the top 250 “open access” websites involved in the unauthorized distribution of film and television content. Dedicated music sites were not included.
Overall the 26 page report, which relies heavily on Alexa data, found that blocking had resulted in targeted sites losing an average 73.2% of their direct traffic. And, when compared to the global control, usage of pirate sites had declined over time.
The report breaks sites down into three categories – linking only sites (the majority of sites in the top 250), public P2P portals and hosting.
Three sites were identified as the most popular among UK users in August 2014 – watchseries.lt (link), putlocker.is (link) and nowvideo.sx (host), with the former maintaining the number one position for the previous six months. And despite being blocked in March 2013 and taking a large hit in direct traffic, KickassTorrents maintained its place in the top 10.
In all cases, direct traffic to ‘pirate’ sites plummeted when ISPs implemented court-ordered blockades. The chart below shows the effect of a 2013 blocking order against BitSnoop, TorrentReactor, TorrentHound, Torrent Downloads, Monova, Filestube, Filecrop, 1337x, Torrentz, TorrentCrazy and ExtraTorrent.
However, while direct traffic to ‘pirate’ sites diminishes following blocking actions, Incopro found that a particular kind of site in the top 250 actually does better over time.
So-called “linking only” sites (i.e not a P2P portal or hosting site) enjoy significant boosts, as shown in the chart below.
“Linking Only sites have shown a growth in usage over time, indicating that these sites increase in usage and can take the place of those that are blocked if they are allowed to grow over time,” the company warns.
“In summary, where there are sustained periods of blocking, usage levels are driven downwards across all site categories. Linking Only sites are the fastest growing category and should be considered as blocking targets over a sustained period to curtail their growth.”
While the Alexa data relied on by Incopro relates to direct traffic to sites, the big unknown is how many people continue to visit blocked sites using circumvention tools such as VPNs and proxy services. In its report, Incopro highlights three different types
1. Dedicated sites offering access or a mirror of a blocked site
2. Sites offering access to more than one blocked site (i.e come.in)
3. VPNs or proxy services offering access to any site
Immediately there is a problem for anyone looking to measure traffic to sites when the above methods are used. While option 1 is relatively easy to measure, options 2 and 3 present significant technical issues. For these reasons, Incopro measured only option 1. Nevertheless, as the chart below shows, use of dedicated proxies accounts for more than half of blocked “pirate” site traffic.
In summing up, Incopro found that when a website and all of its domains and dedicated proxies are blocked by court order (and updated quickly), “there is a significant impact in reducing infringement by the sites themselves and a reduction in the overall infringement undertaken by the most popular websites in the UK.”
But to really get to the heart of the problem requires a much deeper analysis and the answer to a question that sits way outside the scope of the report.
Does site blocking really put more money into the pockets of the entertainment industries?
Top 250 leading “pirate” movie/TV sites (dedicated music sites excluded)