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Pirate website blocking may increase use of paid legal streaming sites

While blocking solely The Pirate Bay piracy website caused no increase in the adoption of legal distribution services for digital movies and television, simultaneously blocking 19 major such websites caused users of the blocked sites to increase their usage of paid legal streaming sites up to 23%.

These results come from a study by three academics from Carnegie Mellon University in the US, The Effect of Piracy Website Blocking on Consumer Behavior, that claims to be the first to use a consumer-level dataset to understand the various ways in which Internet users react to instances of anti-piracy legislation and provide insights into why.

The study, conducted by Brett Danaher, Michael Smith and Rahul Telang, analyzes the effect of piracy website blocking. Unlike shutting down entire sites (such as the shutdown of, website blocking is a strategy whereby governments or courts order Internet Service Providers within a country to simply block users' access to a website that has been shown to facilitate illegal copyright infringement. This could include piracy cyberlockers, BitTorrent tracker sites (which do not host actual content but rather index the 'tracker' files that filesharers require in order to download a media file through the BitTorrent protocol), or unauthorized media streaming sites.

However, the effectiveness of website blocking may be different from a complete site shutdown, like Megaupload, because the content is still available on the servers of the blocked sites and there are a number of ways in which consumers and suppliers of pirated content may circumvent the block to obtain access to the infringing content.

The research focuses on two specific periods of website blocking orders granted by the UK High Court: the first directed to The Pirate Bay in May 2012, and second directed to nineteen different major filesharing websites during October and November 2013.

These data show that the blocking of The Pirate Bay, one of the largest BitTorrent sites in the UK, caused no increase in the adoption of legal distribution services for digital movies and television. The data suggest that former Pirate Bay users merely switched to unblocked ?proxy? sites that mirrored the contents of The Pirate Bay or dispersed to other, unrelated filesharing websites to consume media illegally.

However, the study suggests that when 19 major piracy websites were simultaneously blocked in October-November 2013, the results were different. Though the researchers observe that this caused some consumers to disperse to other piracy sites or to adopt technologies that allow circumvention of the block, they also find that these blocks caused users of the blocked sites to increase their usage of paid legal streaming sites by 12%.

The lightest users of the blocked sites (and thus the users least affected by the blocks, other than the control group) increased their clicks on paid streaming sites by 3.5% while the heaviest users of the blocked sites increased their paid streaming clicks by 23.6%. Thus, the study shows website blocking may have a significant impact on legal consumption when multiple sites are blocked at once. But why is it the case? The academics believe the most likely explanation is that when a single site is blocked, many pirates will know at least one other good site, but when many sites are blocked, the cost to find another reliable site is higher for all but the most active pirates.

The study authors note that other legal channels exist in the UK such as paid digital downloads (on iTunes, for example) or DVD/Blu-ray disc purchases, and understanding the impact of site blocks on these channels would be of interest to managers and policymakers as well, but data on such behavior were not available this particular study.

The complete study is available on

Story filed 08.06.15

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