During the next few weeks, ISPs in the UK will begin sending out warnings to subscribers who use BitTorrent to share pirated content. It's a curious situation. Since every major torrent site and hundreds of others are already blocked by those very same ISPs, few people should even have access to torrents.
Later this month in partnership with the Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative, four major ISPs will begin sending warning notices to subscribers whose connections are being used to pirate content.
BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are all involved in the scheme, which will be educational in tone and designed to encourage users towards legitimate services. The BBC obtained a copy of the email due to be sent out, and it’s very inoffensive.
“Get it Right is a government-backed campaign acting for copyright owners who think their content’s been shared without their permission,” the notice reads.
“It looks like someone has been using your broadband to share copyrighted material (that means things like music, films, sport or books). And as your broadband provider, we have to let you know when this happens.”
The notice then recommends where people can obtain tips to ensure that the unlawful sharing doesn’t happen again. Since the scheme will target mainly BitTorrent users, it’s likely that one of the tips will be to stop using torrents to obtain content. However, that in itself should be an eyebrow-raising statement in the UK.
For the past several years, UK Internet service providers – including all of the ones due to send out piracy notices this month – have been blocking all of the major torrent sites on the orders of the High Court. The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents (and all their variants), every site in the top 10 most-visited torrent list and hundreds more, are all blocked at the ISP level in the UK.
By any normal means, no significant public torrent sites can be accessed by any subscriber from any major UK ISP and it’s been that way for a long time. Yet here we are in 2017 preparing to send up to 2.5 million warning notices a year to UK BitTorrent users. Something doesn’t add up.
According to various industry reports, there are around six million Internet pirates in the UK, which give or take is around 10% of the population. If we presume that a few years ago the majority were using BitTorrent, they could have conceivably received a couple of notices each per year.
However, if site-blocking is as effective as the music and movie industries claim it to be, then these days we should be looking at a massive decrease in the number of UK BitTorrent users. After all, if users can’t access the sites then they can’t download the .torrent files or magnet links they offer. If users can’t get those, then no downloads can take place.
While this is probably true for some former torrent users, it is obvious that massive site blocking efforts are being evaded on an industrial scale. With that in mind, the warning notices will still go out in large numbers but only to people who are savvy enough to circumvent a blockade but don’t take any other precautions as far as torrent transfers are concerned.
For others, who already turned to VPNs to give them access to blocked torrent sites, the battle is already over. They will never see a warning notice from their ISP and sites will remain available for as long as they stay online.
There’s also another category of users who migrated away from torrents to streaming sites. Users began to notice web-based streaming platforms in their millions when The Pirate Bay was first blocked several years ago, and they have only gained in popularity since. Like VPN users, people who frequent these sites will never see an ISP piracy notice.
Finally, there are those users who don’t understand torrents or web-based streaming but still use the latter on a daily basis via modified Kodi setups. These boxes or sticks utilize online streaming platforms so their users’ activities cannot be tracked. They too will receive no warnings. The same can be said about users who download from online hosting sites, such as Uploaded and Rapidgator.
So, if we trim this down, we’re looking at an educational notice scheme that will mainly target UK pirates who are somehow able to circumvent High Court blockades but do not conceal their IP addresses. How many of these semi-determined pirates exist is unclear but many are likely to receive ‘educational’ notices in the coming months.
Interestingly, the majority of these users will already be well aware that file-sharing copyrighted content is illegal, since when they’ve tried to access torrent sites in recent years they’ve all received a “blocked” message which mentions copyright infringement and the High Court.
When it comes to the crunch, this notice scheme has come several years too late. Technology has again outrun the mitigation measures available, and notices are now only useful as part of a basket of measures.
That being said, no one in the UK will have their Internet disconnected or throttled for receiving a notice. That’s a marked improvement over what was being proposed six years ago as part of the Digital Economy Act. Furthermore, the notices appear to be both polite and considered. On that basis, consumers should have little to complain about.
And, if some people do migrate to services like Netflix and Spotify, that will only be a good thing. Just don’t expect them to give up pirating altogether since not only are pirates the industry’s best customers, site blockades clearly don’t work.