Feb 20, 2024 2 min read

New study says web-blocking drives people from piracy to legit sites

A new study suggests that the web-blocking of piracy sites does result in more consumers accessing licensed content services, though it also drives more users to unblocked piracy platforms. The music industry is keen for web-blocks to be available in more countries

New study says web-blocking drives people from piracy to legit sites

A new study from academics at Chapman University and Carnegie Mellon University has concluded that web-blocking - the music industry’s anti-piracy tactic of choice - is effective… to an extent.

“Website blocking in India in 2019 and 2020 caused an 8.1% and 3.1% increase in legal [content] consumption, and website blocking in Brazil in 2021 caused 5.2% increase in legal consumption”, the researchers state. “In short, our results suggest that piracy website blocking remains an effective strategy for increasing legal consumption of copyrighted content”. 

With web-blocking, copyright owners secure injunctions in court ordering internet service providers to block their customers from accessing piracy sites. It’s a quicker and easier option than directly suing the operators of each piracy site, who are often based in countries where pursuing copyright infringement litigation is much more challenging.

Web-blocks are available in various countries - including the UK - and the music industry has sought injunctions against many sites. However, there are still some countries where web-blocking is not generally an option, including the US. For this reason, copyright owners are keen to demonstrate that it is an effective tactic for battling online piracy. 

Everyone accepts that web-blocking is not a panacea. More web-savvy consumers can circumvent the blockades, for example by using virtual private networks or third party DNS resolvers. Some critics also argue that blocking one piracy site just directs people to other rival piracy sites, rather than convincing consumers to sign-up to licensed content services. 

That is something that this new research corroborates. According to Torrentfreak, the new study states that, when 174 piracy sites were blocked in 2021, there was “a statistically significant increase in visits to unblocked piracy sites, in essence dispersing some piracy”. 

However, at the same time, there was also an increase in people accessing legitimate sources of online content, so the web-blocks - at least in part - achieved the objective of rights owners. 

The researchers state that they employed the same methodology to an earlier study on web-blocking in the UK, and “we find that all three waves of block in our study caused statistically and economically significant increases in usage of legal media sites”. 

They conclude that the results are consistent with those in the prior UK study showing that “piracy website blocking can lead to increases in legal consumption”.

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