Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blocked website list grows in war on piracy

When one thinks of Internet censorship and blocks on websites one generally focuses upon China, however many western countries, including the UK, are also beginning to censor the web.

Differing standards

While China is focused more on stopping access to information deemed controversial, sharing material outside the Communist Party's control on social media or inciting dissent, the West is more concerned about online piracy and copyright infringement.

Britain in particular has begun to force ISPs [Internet Service Providers] to stop access to many file sharing websites and the list is getting longer.

UK censorship

In May 2012 Virgin Media and several other ISPs complied with a court order asking them to prevent access to the torrent site Pirate Bay [tvnewswatch: Internet censorship a step closer after Pirate Bay is blocked]

It was the first sledgehammer blow, enforced by law, since the Digital Act became law in April 2010, passed after what was seen as a grandiose display of apathy [tvnewswatch: UK: Anger as MPs pass digital bill]

There had been some amendments to the bill before it became law, however the main tenet remained in place, that of clause 8 which stated, "The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the Internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright."

Unfounded fears

While, as some feared, whole sections of otherwise legitimate of the Internet have not been targeted, such as Google's Blogger, YouTube or cloud services, other more blatant file sharing sites have been struck down with court orders.

After Pirate Bay was blocked in May last year those that ran the site began to set up several proxies. This certainly kept some traffic heading their way although the list of proxies has also been gradually added to the ISP's blocked list.

Growing list

Others that have been targeted include EZTV, BeeMP3, Filestube and Filecrop but that list is far from complete. Indeed while the likes of Virgin, BT, Sky, PlusNet, O2  and EE are open in their willing to comply with court orders none are willing to provide a detailed list of what is blocked.

For the average consumer there is perhaps no real reason to fret, after all most of the sites are in essence illegal in that they are sharing copyrighted material. However the risk is that such censorship could spread to more mainstream sites. It is unlikely that YouTube would be blocked, despite the mountains of films and albums uploaded to the site. However foreign clones such as China's Youku or Tudou could very easily become targeted for its often blatant and unhindered distribution of the latest Hollywood films.

Responses

In response to the blocks many filesharing sites have set up proxy sites, which weren't initially blocked because they weren't named in the court order. However, since June 2013 ISPs are blocking a huge number of proxies as well [The Inquirer].

Even without proxies, it is possible for the determined to get around the blocking method the ISPs use. One method is, of course, to change to a small ISP such as Zen Internet or Eclipse Internet which have yet to impose such blocks. Few are likely to uproot themselves in order to obtain a less restricted Internet. Furthermore such providers may not be as good on other fronts, such as speed or reliability [Choose].

VPNs

The only real escape for Internet users in Britain and elsewhere, who insist on wanting to download music or films from the Internet is to use a VPN [Virtual Private Network]. Even this has its pitfalls however. When routing through a VPN the speed can be cut dramatically, and whilst normal browsing might not be noticeable the download of a film or album could take hours instead of minutes. A VPN can also cost as much as $120 a year thus the free download may not be as free as it once was, and with the added problem of slow download speeds it could be more trouble than it's worth to grab that 'free' movie, after all 'Time is Money'. And with relatively cheap streaming services such as Netflix and LoveFilm, or video vaults such as Google Play or Flixster providing access to movies purchased either physically, through Flixster's Ultraviolet partnership, or virtually, online piracy could wane merely because of an issue of convenience.

Privacy

There are however other reasons to use a VPN, other than getting on Facebook in China or downloading a Torrent from Pirate Bay in the UK, and that is better privacy and security. With Snowden's revelations and concerns about government snooping, which have been growing for some time [tvnewswatch: Britain to increase data surveillance powers April 2012 / tvnewswatch: Thoughtcrime nears with social media tracking tool Feb 2013], maybe a VPN isn't such a bad idea!

Final note

This is the most definitive list one has been able to establish of sites blocked by ISPs in Britain: : The Pirate Bay, Kat, H33t, Fenopy, 1337x, BitSnoop, ExtraTorrent, Monova, TorrentCrazy, TorrentDownloads, TorrentHound, Torrentreactor and Torrentz. And the aggregators: Abmp3, BeeMP3, Bomb-MP3, eMP3World, FilesCrop, FilesTube, MP3Juices, MP3Lemon, MP3Raid, MP3Skull, NewAlbumReleases and RapidLibrary. Yify-Torrents, Project-Free TV, Primewire, Vodly and Watchfreemovies have also been added to the list and set to be blocked by the end of November. Meanwhile movie-streaming sites SolarMovie and Tubeplus were added to the list only this week.

But at least news websites are still accessible, for now. In China The Chinese language versions of Reuters and the Wall Street Journal came under the sledgehammer yesterday [Tech in Asia]. They join a long line of western media news websites which have been deemed unsuitable for Chinese citizen's eyes.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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