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Blocking pirated internet resources works, but…

A decrease in Internet piracy does not always correlate with an increase in the consumption of paid legal content (photo: CC0 Public Domain)

Mass blocking of pirated Internet resources does not lead to increased demand for paid streaming services for movies and TV shows – at least in one European country, according to anonymous data from a study by scientists from Carnegie Mellon University (USA) and the business school of the Catholic University of Portugal.

Survey data is provided by ISPs and available to TorrentFreak. The sample size is 100,000 randomly selected subscribers. The study doesn’t specifically mention the country where the providers and their subscribers are located, but TorrentFreak assumes it’s Portugal.

An indirect sign of this is the fact that a Portuguese scientific organization is involved in the research in the first place. In addition, Portugal is one of the few countries in the world that has adopted the so-called “Voluntary Blocking of Pirate Sites Scheme” mentioned in the study.

According to the sources, there are multilateral agreements in place in Portugal between the Ministry of Culture, the local association of telecommunications operators and the national registrar of domain names in the .pt zone, on the one hand, and copyright holders, on the other, which enable the rapid blocking of pirate Internet resources at the initiative of the right holders without going to court.

The information provided to the scientists allows to assess the activity of the involuntary participants of the research on the network and to identify among them the users of the BitTorrent p2p protocol.

The researchers accessed information such as the volume of incoming and outgoing traffic of each subscriber, their spending on paid entertainment video services, and the total time spent watching television. On this basis, they evaluate the activity of users and identify those of them who use the BitTorrent p2p protocol.

Blocking works

According to the observations of scientists, after the introduction of the new mechanism for blocking pirate sites, BitTorrent users began to download and distribute significantly less content. After several months, there is no noticeable return of this indicator to the scale of “before the blocking”.

In addition, the number of households using BitTorrent has also decreased. This gives scientists reason to conclude that blocking sites is an effective means of combating piracy.

They pay attention to the uneven reduction of incoming and outgoing traffic. The volume of the latter has decreased to a much greater extent since the blockade. Scientists suggest that this is due to the transition of some users of “free” content to pirated streaming services, the use of which is not related to the transfer of a significant amount of data from the subscriber to the network.

Growing interest in blocking bypasses

The data analyzed by the researchers also included information on subscriber search activity taken from Google Trends. First of all, researchers are interested in the frequency of occurrence in search queries of terms such as “proxy”, “VPN” and “DNS”. The Google Trends service registered a sharp increase in the number of such requests since the start of the campaign against Internet piracy in Portugal, especially in the first few weeks.

According to the researchers, this shows the willingness of the pirate torrent tracker audience to explore the tools to bypass the blocking. After a few months, user interest in such tools largely fades, and the number of related topic searches returns to normal.

However, as TorrentFreak notes, by now the most persistent of pirates have probably acquired the necessary tools and adapted to the new conditions.

Legal services do not benefit

The logic of copyright holders suggests that blocking pirate sites should have a positive impact on the income of legitimate service providers. Having lost access to “free” entertainment content, people may be interested in online paid services for movies, cable and public television.

However, the results of the study show that this assumption has little to do with reality. The researchers did not register statistically significant changes in the volume of consumption of digital media services by the subscribers of the Internet providers included in the sample.

However, the average duration of a TV viewing session among such subscribers has increased, albeit very slightly: pirates have started to watch TV in general for 2.5 minutes more than before the beginning of the blocking, and to spend 1.8 minutes more time on TV channels specializing in movies and series.

Thus, according to the scientists’ conclusions, the fight against piracy by the method of blocking hardly brings any practical benefits to legal services, although it helps to reduce the scale of piracy, as well as the total volume of Internet traffic of subscribers.

However, it should be borne in mind that Portuguese providers started mass blocking of pirate sites in 2015, when the country’s streaming service market was underdeveloped. The giants Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, now popular in many parts of the world, were either not present in the country at all at the time or had a small audience.

Digital television and related services such as VoD (“video on demand”) were much more widespread and were, in fact, the only legal alternative to Internet piracy, with the exception of illegal copies of films and series on physical media – CDs and DVDs so.

The experts’ conclusions are confirmed by the results of other studies. In particular, a 2015 study by scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Wellesley College (USA) showed that the measures taken by the UK authorities to combat the famous torrent tracker Pirate Bay did not affect the consumption of legal content from the inhabitants of the Island. Mass Internet users prefer to look for “mirrors” of the web resource or resort to VPN services, simply so as not to pay for the video.

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