/ Technology

Is blocking sites the right way to tackle illegal downloads?

Caution sign

A High Court Judge yesterday ruled that BT must now block access to the website Newzbin2 – a site that provides links to pirated films. But is this the right way to tackle illegal downloading?

This ruling, which is in favour of the Motion Pictures Association, comes over a year after the High Court ordered Newzbin2 to take down all illegal content and pay damages to the relevant film studios. The site then went into administration and avoided having to pay damages, before appearing online again, running anonymously from Sweden.

There is no doubt in my mind that it is essential that copyright holders are protected by law – without this, the creative industries would surely suffer and, as a result, so would we. But what is the best way to combat illegal file sharing?

Is blocking people from accessing this online content a disproportionate response?

Give me a warning

Under the controversial Digital Economy Act, which BT and Talk Talk have unsuccessfully tried to halt, ISPs are required to send warning letters to internet users who rights holders claim to be illegally downloading copyrighted content from file sharing sites.

This seems to be a sensible enough approach. If you were illegally downloading files, you’d get a letter from your ISP telling you that they know what you are doing and ask you to stop. If you persist then you could face ‘technical measures’, including the slowing or blocking of access to the net.

But would that approach actually stop persistent illegal file sharers using sites such as Newzbin2? Surely they will just wait until they receive their second warning letter and then switch to a different ISP?

Censoring the internet?

On the other hand, asking ISPs to block access to content feels like a dangerous path to tread in relation to censorship and net neutrality. Not everyone feels this way, with Lord Puttnam, president of the Film Distributors Association commenting:

‘Finally, it seems we have a way to deal with rogue sites which will benefit the film industry including UK independent distributors and, more broadly, the entire creative sector.’

Personally, I think the best way to stop a large chunk of the illegal file sharing that currently goes on, and in doing so protect the incomes of our creative industries, is for these industries to ensure that cost-effective legal alternatives to this content is available for download.

Restrictive licensing of films, TV shows and music serves to fuel the use of illegal sites, as people who really want to see that film or listen to that track may feel that they’re left with no option but to illegally download it.

Is blocking websites the right way to tackle illegal downloading?

No (60%, 220 Votes)

Yes (28%, 101 Votes)

I don't know (12%, 45 Votes)

Total Voters: 366

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Anyone who really wants to avoid this will just go ahead and encrypt their connection or use a VPN service hosted in another country – pointless legislation! Educate don’t legislate!!

Not everyone knows how to encrypt (me too), so surely education should be a tool but are new tools universal esp as the rogue is nearly — just ahead! So hey for now at least use a combo of tools and effective education. Not everyone is as the late r. Fenyman and able to think with complete understanding “on their feet”!

[Hello Wild Thing, please try not to write in all caps – it sounds like you’re shouting. Check out our Commenting Guidelines if you’re unsure. Thanks, mods.]

Piracy of films and music might never have happened if the companies had not been so greedy in the first place.

The story of failed attempts to combat piracy could make an interesting film and a lesson to anyone planning to sell downloadable material online.

I wonder of those expensive legal eagles got the wording right or will Newzbin2 just rebrand to Newxbin3 (or equiv) to get round it ?

And maybe if these film companies didn’t region code, delay releases for so long after the cinema, charge so much in the 1st place , ( just 2-3 months if that, something that started out at £15.99 is lowered to £4.99). People would actually be able to buy the real deal.

The film industry are their own worst enemies.

GrantG says:
30 July 2011

I download a lot of music, and I much prefer to do it legally. This has its drawbacks, however: the transaction amounts can be very small, and on one occasion my bank stopped my card because of this “suspicous” usage. Also, the file formats vary from site to site which can cause problems. Strrangely, the legal sites constantly indulge in anti-competive behaviour, but the illegal sites don’t.

On the subject of films or DVDs I have on more than one occasion remarked that maybe I should download illegally because then I wouldn’t be required to sit through the obligatory propaganda about illegal downloading on my (legally-bought) DVDs.

Charlotte says:
2 August 2011

I know what you mean. I absolutely hate those illegal download ads. It talks about supporting the film industry but doesn’t say what that means, which is useless. I think it means giving more budding film makers opportunities but that’s not clear, instead they appear to be saying, support the film industry, please line our executives pockets. I work in marketing, so I’m particularly enraged by this useless communications exercise. I also think it’s the wrong argument. Let’s find some filmmakers and do something better.

The real point about rip of DVDs for me is that they are funding crime, so when you buy Toy Story to entertain your kids at the weekend you’re probably funding a dealer who’ll get them into trouble when they get to their early teens. That’s the point, what kind of person/enterprise are you funding.

Damn Young says:
30 July 2011

I have never downloaded copyrighted material unlawfully, and like to have the pukka music CDs. Blocking websites is not the way. Law enforcers need to go after the site owners. They can be traced, and extradited, if necessary. I notice that a music CD can cost up to £15, but I can buy a film on DVD for only £3 or so. Why are music CDs such a rip-off? The trouble with mp3 files is they are not as good quality as CD tracks.

FC360 says:
30 July 2011

I’ve downloaded films illegally but stopped awhile ago as they stopped releasing films I had to see. The reason I used to download the films illegally was due to the high cinema cost, it cost over £10 to go to cinema and watch a film here, that includes a drink. I just didn’t see the point in wasting £10 to sit in a uncomfortable chair staring at a screen which is too big, I used to miss stuff that happened because I was looking at a different part of the screen at the time.

The music industry gets on my nerves. They sell Albums at £10 each, sometimes more for multiple discs but for now I’ll use 1 disc albums, if the album sells 500,000 that’s £5 million the artist and studio have made. If they sold it at half the price that make £2.5 million however because of the lower price they would probably sell more copies so they would probably make more money.

If they want to stop people downloading stuff illegally make the things cheaper so more can afford it.

I think they should close down illegal file sharing sites without warning – after all you don’t warn any other thief do you? Then block each and every illegal site from the downloader’s ISP side so that anyone found to be downloading illegally loses the use of their connection.- that’ll soon stop the illegal behaviour.

The cost is virtually nothing to do with it – you can buy the DVDs on-line legally for around £3 or less second-hand just a little time after the initial release. I certainly find it cheaper to watch a DVD at home than go to the cinema. Or you can rent them (as I do) from such places as Lovefilm at around £3 a time – or download (stream) them legally.

If you must watch it a few days after general release – pay the full price legally.for the privilege..- just like those who go to the cinema do – helps to support both the makers and the displayers..

Do you understand the technical implications of what you are suggesting? – in addition the loss of all internet connection because of accessing a site is well on the way to censorship in general.

What happens if a child accesses a site – does everyone in the house get punished?

What if another legitimate website is hosted on the same IP as the problem site?

What if you access the site by accident or have your wireless connection used by your neighbour/AN other?

This kind of over the top reaction is what leads to poorly thought out and impractical legislation. Understand the problem before offering an opinion on how to solve it.

Sorry I understand the technical implications of what I suggest – I get tired of the lack of responsibility shown by so many “it’s never my fault” – it IS your fault.

If it is your child that downloads – it is your fault for lack of supervision – If your connection is at fault – it is your responsibility. That’s what all the safeguards are for – You cannot download a film “by accident”.

Frankly I understand the problem – but I doubt if you understand or accept YOUR responsibility/

Wow – You make the assumption that I am guilty when in fact I am just interested and well informed on the subject – Well done for clarifying that you are both uninformed and an over-reactionary though, it is appreciated.

If you did understand the implications then you would have understood the point about the same IP hosting multiple sites or for example the ease with which a connection to a site can be masked via a VPN. (there are many more examples)

Blocking sites will not work – full stop.

However, educating people to the implications of what they are doing, backed up, as the more sensible people in this convo have suggested, with well thought out legal downloads will get much more of a result for the media owners. The sooner they realise this and stop listening to their lawyers or people like you the better.

Charlotte says:
2 August 2011

You can’t educate people into not using illegal sites. People ‘steal’ in this way because it’s easy and there are no consequences. If it were harder to do, or if there were actual penalties, like stealing from a shop, then people would still do it but much, much less. All the ‘education’ about supporting the film industry you see inserted in the front of DVDs hasn’t done a thing to halt the spread of people buying cheap rip offs. I’m not counting myself as morally superior. I’d probably steal from supermarkets if I were less well off, or if it were easier. Imagine going into Sainsbury’s and having people pay on trust. The store would be empty within hours. It’s just not in our nature.

I’m confused about the argument justifies stealing because cinemas are too expensive or that a few musicians make millions. They don’t exist just to entertain you. If I can’t afford something I don’t buy it, I don’t steal Gucci handbags because I think they’re overpriced but I deserve one. Part of what’s wrong with society is people thinking they deserve everything without having to work or wait for it.

And there’s another consequence, for every artist that makes it big, there’s hundreds of others the music industry had a go on that didn’t get anywhere. They need mega profits in some areas to give others a chance. It’s the same for cinema. A low-budget film can still cost about 10 million, a massive gamble to take if it doesn’t make the box office numbers it needs to. It’s a huge investment of time, energy and resources and people still think they should enjoy it for free. I don’t imagine you’d be happy to work all day on something, then find someone had walked off with what you’ve done without paying you. Piracy is less personal but the principle is the same. Piracy means less revenue, which ultimately means less investment in anything which isn’t completely mainstream and that impoverishes our culture and wastes a lot of talent that will never get a chance all because people think they deserve to be entertained for free.

All these people saying blocking sites will never work are just hoping the idea won’t catch on, so they can do on getting something for nothing. If people aren’t able to police themselves, then it’s very clear they need someone to do it for them.

Good answer on many levels and yes educating that downloading is bad people will not prevent many from doing it – I want to get the companies to educate people differently…..

However, the point about the messages in DVDs illustrates the point very well – putting anti-piracy flyers in a purchased DVD is preaching to the converted and the same penalising of legitimate customers is rife in media protection activities – Ubisofts DRM program for example.

Also, I re-iterate I am not condoning these activities! – I am merely stating that blocking websites will not work – not through self interest but from a technical and logistical point of view. Any work done by an ISP to stop a website will be circumvented, within hours. The way bittorrent works is based on a an un-centralised data model – it is designed to perpetuate beyond a single server or website. Newsbin is just a list pointing to where the data is hosted – it is very easy to set up another list or have the list migrated to areas that are unenforceable – for example social networks could very quickly be adapted to a similar role and how do you block that?!?

Any attempt to do this will fail miserably like most government initiatives directed at digital media- they just don’t understand it and by the time they do things have moved on.

The media rights owners are only marginally better and that is where the problem will be beaten. Innovators in this field understand – for example online games distribution is starting to understand people will pay for something if it is cheap, easily accessible and has added value – Steam or other similar services are having a huge success in this arena and are teaching the traditional distributors a lesson. There is growing evidence that if you don’t use DRM but release something for free with an option to pay afterwards you get more revenue than if you had protected it in the first place.

Basically the traditional distribution models don’t work very well for digital and the quicker we stop trying to enforce the will of the big corporates through governmental legislation the better

There will always be people who steal – giving people better options to buy will reap far more dividends than DRM which only penalises those who have already been a loyal customer

Charlotte says:
2 August 2011

I agree there should be better ways to distribute I was reacting to all this let’s throw our hands in the air and give up from people. Although that said, I have gone back to buying CDs recently as I find itunes very unsatisfactory (easy to loose, or delete, tedious to authorise and deauthorise on different machines, although buying individual tracks is great). I’ve heard of Steam but I’m not a gamer. I’ve heard lots of positive things about online gaming. I suppose for me, things like music and films, I want to own, that’s what’s frustrating with itunes etc. I don’t have enough tech expertise to give advice on what should be done about piracy sites, I just assume as an uninitiate that there must be clever people with equally devious solutions, although high-tech is not a term I associate with government interventions (and frankly shame on them that it isn’t). I agree better communication and better distribution is an important part of the solution. The thing I said about Cannabis is not because I’m a smoker, I had a chat with a policeman mate about the money and time wasted on small personal users. I won’t bore you with the details but he made a convincing case for better targeting of resources.

The drug discussion is a perfect analogy for this debate really – all the huge amount of money, time and lives wasted on enforcement could have been far better channelled into education in a legalised system – and I guess the big drink and tobacco manufacturers are the equivalent of the MPA in trying to prevent a sensible solution to the issue.

You can probably rely on the deviousness of evaders overcoming that of enforcers for the forseeable in both these cases 😉

robb192002 says:
31 July 2011

I think its pretty dismal that private industry has inveigled its way into having so much influence over the legislation creating government. As has been pointed out before, the rise in popularity of online entertainment piracy is quite clearly a result of nothing other than a market failure to capitalise on new technology. Now the internet is here to stay, how about those industries offer a standard quality, value for money service so many millions desire? Whether its a standard release date, or a reasonable rate for all the regions they serve? Staggering the release of their products between regions, offering those products with wild price differentials does not serve their business.
Blocking the odd pirate website seems an exercise in futility.

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Wes says:
1 August 2011

The fact is… As long as their is internet , their will be “illegal downloads” delete the one source and 10 other pop up the enxt day.. ts a never ending struggle

I do not understand why the court system has been getting at the ISPs. They are providing a transmission service and should not be concerned with the data that is being transmitted. We would hardly expect Royal Mail to check the copyright status of post that it is carrying.

Agreed. Nor would they expect telephone service providers (BT) to be responsible for blocking unsolicited calls, obscene calls, ‘dead’ calls, terrorist calls, etc.

The only possible reason is corruption.

This is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The industry has almost totally screwed up DVDs by introducing dafter and dafter copy protection. This has failed repeatedly.

Now they have bribed their way into parliament (something called lobbying, but it is only bribery under a different name) and got their cronies to bring about an idiotic law forcing ISPs to police the Internet.

This is so easily circumnavigated that it is a waste of the ISPs’ time and money.

The industry simply needs to supply on line downloads of movies in high quality at a sensible price. I don’t want piles of DVDs full of s**t extras that the industry thinks we all need. A simple .mkv file in 720p and DTS sound track at around 3GB is all that is required. Not a 50GB DVD full of superfluous rubbish stacked up in a bookshelf gathering dust forever.

They should stop flogging the dead horse, give us what everyone wants (except for themselves) and get on with life.

Just a thought,
if the government thinks it can actually block these sites; then why hasn’t it blocked kiddie porn and other nasty stuff already?

I have a feeling that it just is not possible – geeks find ways around things.

(PS My Paedo solution is castration – no hormones, no crimes)

Agreed. And if they put in half the effort to ‘get’ spammers, the Internet would be twice as fast and so much safer!

Over 75% of spam originates in North America, which sort of illustrates that it is industry money that is having an unhealthy influence with lawmakers.

The only reason they’re hitting BT with this blocking order is that BT just happen to be the largest ISP in the UK. And getting someone else to “police” it is perceived by the small minded as the way to go.

Take me for example, I don’t download ( with my luck I’d be caught for even thinking about it ). I’m with Virgin , this ban doesn’t affect me or anyone else who’s not on BT.

Any1 wanting to download this sort of stuff, will either a) use a different site ( which BT weren’t told to block) or b) switch to a different ISP.

They need to look at the reasons people do it and address those, not get someone to stand by the stable door and stop any horse from escaping when they’ve already gone.

Charlotte says:
2 August 2011

I do agree targeting BT isn’t the best way. It seems better to do as someone suggested and go after the sites themselves. BT is probably being used as an example. Looking at the comments here, the reason people do it is because they are lazy and cheap. No public information messages are going to address that.

If people acted responsibly, we’d have no need for laws. It’s no way of addressing it to sigh and say it can’t be stopped, so let’s do nothing. It’s like saying people take heroin, so we may as well sell it in Boot’s, it’s what people and it can’t be stopped. I personally feel there’s an argument for decriminalising cannabis but this is just an example.

So cannabis is OK but heroin isn’t?!?! – I thought you were sticking up for the law here?

Your earlier comment made sense but you just jumped the shark with that one.

Public information broadcasts on the evils of piracy may not work but educating people that buying from a legitimate online store has benefits may well do.

And while we are at it the assumption that people download things only because they are lazy and cheap is again somewhat ignorant of the motivators.

Maybe it is easier?
Maybe if there was a quick easy way to get some music or film people would use it?.
Maybe the person who downloads a film would never have bought it but after seeing it they go out and buy a legitimate copy?
Maybe they download TV programmes because they are not in to see it when scheduled?
Maybe their favourite artists album is out in the states now but not out in the UK for another three months?

All of these do not justify stealing but are failings of the distributors in understanding their customer base and result in lost sales – understand your customer and provide them with the correct tools to buy and you can easily prevent them turning to alternate means – That is education and the way to beat piracy.

@ Lombear

You are correct. Downloading movies, TV series, whatever, has nothing to do with being lazy. I can order a DVD on line for next day delivery cheaper than the shops and as simple as can be. And as I stated previously, I don’t want a shelf full of DVDs or CDs gathering dust either.

I won’t pay £15 for a DVD: it is that simple. If the industry provided legal downloads of movies using quality compression in 720p/DTS, then I would willing pay a reasonable sum for this. And a reasonable is not £15 either. Eliminating the DVD production, packaging, distribution and middle man & end sellers margins would suggest that a fiver would be reasonable – probably better profit than they get now.

There is also the delay in release of movies and the delay in broadcasting TV series. The industry needs to understand that communications – and in particular the Internet – has shrunk the world in the last 10 years. The days of broadcasting House Series 7 in the USA a year before it is shown in the UK are long gone.

I quite happily pay for my music downloads – all legal and usually good value – with more providers now using lossless compression such as FLAC. But what are the movie industry doing! They’re lobbying Parliament to make it the ISPs’ responsibility to enforce the industry’s belligerent stance.

Well I can be belligerent too.They will lose and we will win.

Brian says:
3 August 2011

The ruling by the high court might be a start but for any ban to be effective it has got to be enforceable on a global scale since the internet is itself global.

The government has come out to say that it thinks blocking websites is the wrong way to curb illegal downloading – it’s apparently unworkable. The government wants this requirement to be removed from the Digital Economy Act. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14372698

Huzzah! – Seems there are some sensible people in government 🙂

Have they been reading in here?