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Government to Block Torrent Websites - Blog

Posted on: 08-07-2015

The latest government effort to curb piracy and copyright breaches, the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill, will force ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to block websites containing copyrighted material. There are several concerns that the idea will not do what it is intended to and in addition there is a strong chance that legitimate websites may be inadvertently blocked, as has been the case with similar ideas in the past.

Main Issues

The bill makes sense at first glance; making it more difficult to access popular torrent websites which distribute almost exclusively copyrighted material. However the first issue is that there seems to be no description on how ISPs are to implement blocking. This leaves it up to the ISPs to decide, meaning they will choose the easiest and cheapest method, which is likely to also be the least effective. The method they will most likely use it "DNS blocking" which means simply blocking the domain name. Whilst this method of blocking is fairly easy, it also means the block can be very easily bypassed with a quick tweak to your computer or modem's settings or even a free program that can override the blocking method. ISPs could also opt for IP blocking, which is blocking the address of the computer (server) on the Internet that hosts the website. This is slightly more difficult to bypass, however website owners could easily change their IPs, wait until the judge orders the new one is blocked, then move to a new IP again. It could also be bypassed with a simple, inexpensive VPN or proxy service.

Other concerns with the IP blocking method

Legitimate websites can often share an IP address with hundreds or thousands of other websites. They have no control over the contents of those other websites, so it is possible that they could be sharing an IP with a dodgy torrent website. You may say that it should be up to the company providing the website hosting to screen all websites, however it is not practical to be frequently manually checking the contents of potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of customer's websites. What all of this means is that if the ISPs are requested to block an IP address, thousands of legitimate websites could also be taken down. This has happened previously with other government schemes.

Other ways legitimate websites could be blocked

Copyright holders will be required submit their complaint to a judge who will then order ISPs to block the website. The issues is that what constitutes a pirate website could be open to interpretation. How much of a website's content has to contain copyrighted material or links to torrents containing copyrighted material? Will legitimate websites that happen to contain some user-submitted links to copyright material be blocked?

Other countries have similar schemes. Do they work?

A similar system has been in place in the UK since 2011 and little to no success. The most popular torrent websites have been blocked, but alternative ways to access their content are quickly found. Once the main website is blocked, within hours, mirror websites begin to pop up, offering the same content and downloads. Those websites are then blocked, but more pop up. It's a race the copyright-holders/government cannot win.

Of course UK residents find other ways to bypass the blocks, such as proxies, VPNs or the Tor browser. The Pirate Bay, the world's biggest torrent website has even found a way to prevent most ISPs from being able to block it. Their system effectively hides the information about The Pirate Bay from internet providers, making it harder for them to block access to their main site.

It seems this all boils down to a waste of government time and money and a potential increase to Internet prices due to the new systems ISPs will be forced to implement. The real solution is to find out why Australian's download copyrighted content. The main reason is that TV shows are available to us only via expensive pay TV, often months after they are aired overseas or sometimes not at all. The obvious solution is to make overseas TV shows available in Australia at the same time as their are aired overseas and at a reasonable cost. Netflix finally opened up to the Australian market and this is the first step. However the content available to Australians is still limited and of course Netflix only covers a certain percentage of available TV shows.

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