Research suggests site blocking effective against piracy


news New research based on data from the UK has suggested that site blocking can be effective against online piracy of digital content.

The work was carried out by Dr Brett Danaher, visiting research professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University who looked at the effectiveness of court-ordered site blocking of pirate sites.

Dr Danaher had presented his findings to content creators and distributors, lawyers, academics and media representatives at an event hosted by the Australian Screen Association (ASA) on 10 May.

The researcher has studied the effects of site blocking since 2012. For this study, he focused on the three levels of evaluating the effectiveness of site blocking: being whether it decreases visits to the blocked sites, whether it decreases total piracy, and whether it increases legal consumption.

“Measuring the causal effect of piracy website blocking is difficult. We studied three waves of court-ordered ISP site blocking in the UK using a dataset on actual Internet user behaviour,” Dr Danaher said.

The findings indicated that blocking a single major piracy site was not effective at reducing piracy or increasing legal sales.

In May 2012, The Pirate Bay, the UK’s most popular piracy site, was blocked. However, the action caused only a small decrease in total piracy, according to the researcher.

Instead, most users turned to other unblocked piracy sites or employed to virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the block.

“There was no causal increase in legal consumption of video content,” he said.

However, in November 2013, 19 major video piracy sites were blocked in the UK.

This simultaneous blocking of a number of popular piracy sites caused a “meaningful reduction” in total piracy and also caused users to increase their usage of paid legal streaming sites (such as Netflix) by 12%.

The research also suggested that further phases of site blocking continued to affect levels of piracy and legal consumption.

In November 2014, 53 video piracy sites were blocked in the UK, caused a “meaningful” reduction in total piracy and a 6% increase in traffic to paid, legal streaming sites, according to the research.

“There appear to be diminishing returns to additional waves of site blocks, and yet these waves may also serve to prevent a return to the prior status quo,” said Dr Danaher.

Cowlick Entertainment Group’s Senior Producer and Development Executive, Bridget Callow-Wright, commented: “The reality is that the sites like these are eroding the future of young Australian creatives and are making it harder and harder for us to have sustainable careers in the business.”

Executive Chairman of the Australian Screen Association, Paul Muller, said that disabling pirate websites via the courts is just one of the tools that can be used that will have an impact on piracy. However, better legislation, education, and making legal content available and affordable are also part of the process.

Additionally, he added, there is “the overall desire for people to want to do the right thing”.

“Changing people’s attitudes and behaviours is a long running process. Just like it took a long time for people to look differently at smoking, it is going to take people a long time to think differently about piracy,” Muller concluded.

The research cited in this article can be viewed on the Social Science Research Network website.

Image credit: HBO


  1. Can we as a community please get behind this idea, no matter the “facts” or “reality”? It will be easier on everyone, and no one has to change how they’re doing anything.

    Yes, Site Blocking is effective, continue down that path and close all the other doors that were open to ineffective solutions. Site blocking is the future, get on board.

    I like the smoking analogy. No, it didn’t take a long time for people to look differently at smoking. It took a long time for the science-based health effects of smoking to be so plainly clear that even corporate and media spin-doctors couldn’t argue against it. It’s a good parallel.

    • About 3 years ago, I was in Vegas for a few weeks. My sister was heading there for work, and we crossed paths for a week or so. Shes a smoker. While there, her and her daughter were so excited to be able to smoke inside (mostly the novelty), but when it came to sparking up, they could barely finish the cigarette.

      They simply felt that it was wrong, and hence were uncomfortable about it. To me, a non smoker, it was an interesting reflection on how we adapt to change.

      It doesnt take long for culture to accept or reject something, whether you want to do it or not, but in the end you still have to make people WANT to accept it. Smoking wasnt banned, it was just segregated more and more, and slowly built a culture that we got used to.

      Online piracy can do the same thing, but it either needs to be gradual, or give a valid alternative. 15 years ago, most people downloaded single songs through Napster, thats just how things were done. But almost overnight, that stopped, and even today you rarely hear of bad stories about music downloading, simply because the right options were easily and positively available – iTunes, and Spotify at various times.

      The video industry needs to learn those same lessons. You dont educate with a stick, you educate with the carrot.

  2. You get what you pay for I guess:

    Acknowledgements: This research was conducted as part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics (IDEA), which receives unrestricted (gift) funding from the Motion Picture Association of America. All findings and errors are entirely our own.

    And, oddly enough, the same team argued the opposite a while back:

    • Interesting.

      To me it makes some sense that mass site blocking would work to drive people to legal services.

      But those legal services have to be better than the services that previously existed, and good enough that reverting back to the illegal services is not “worthwhile”.

      Which of course, brings us back to “Ease of Access” and “Affordability”…

      LOL… how many ways can it be said

      • Most of the arguments from “Big Content” are meant to protect the model, not fix it. If they really did want to fix it, then “Ease of Access” and “Affordability” would be a part of the conversation, but they never are from their side.

        • Oh I know… Another place the Smoking Analogy actually works with.

          The industry hides and avoids, and blatantly lies about the truth until eventually they can’t any longer.

  3. making legal content available and affordable are also part of the process.

    ^ This. Make it so that we can access content in a timely manner relative to its’ release, and people won’t pirate. Make it difficult or force us to go with “The One Provider” to access content at their leisure, we’ll pirate.

  4. I wonder when Netflix launched in the UK? It didn’t just happen to be around the same time those sites were blocked, did it? No, of course not, because they suggested the link between blocked sites and take up of video streaming services was ‘causal’.

    Here’s a thought – you can’t #@&*ing know it was causal, you can only collect data and speculate. You should also disclose that Netflix launched in that region during the same period, so your data may be backward – people may have stopped downloading illegally because it was easier for them to just get a Netflix subscription. I can tell you, if I had broadband capable of delivering flawless 1080p and Netflix was available for the same cost with the same content in the USA I would sign up in a heartbeat. If I could subscribe to the BBC iplayer service I would happily do so, too – instead I pay for DNS and VPN services so I can access content that simply *isn’t legally available* outside specific jurisdictions. And put up with constant buffering, because my Internet in Australia is $#*&. And here I was due to have FTTP connected by now…

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