BBC says ISPs should suspect VPN users of copyright piracy

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

September 11, 2014

Yes – VPN is a popular and very effective way to hide copyright piracy, as it both acts as a proxy – thus hiding a P2P downloader’s true IP address, and because all data passes through an encrypted tunnel thus hiding the users’ actions from their ISP.

Yes -piracy is popular in Australia because licencing deals make Australia one of the most gouged countries in the world when it comes to paying for legitimate content. Even when trying to pay for content, Australians have been accused of piracy, so really – they just can’t win!

However – VPN is not only vital to businesses that need to operate securely, but also to those individuals with minority lifestyles, political or religious views, who may suffer persecution if unable to behave circumspectly on the internet.

Even those of us without such a pressing need to hide our online identities or internet usage have many legitimate reasons to use VPN. Here at BestVPN’s top secret HQ, for example, we use VPN religiously – mainly as a big ‘fuck you’ to the NSA and GHCQ .

As such, we have a VPN connection running all the time, even when watching HD downloads from YouTube, or watching streaming services such as 4oD and BBC iPlayer (which since we are based in the UK we are fully entitled to do).

Now, despite the fact that it gains a huge revenue from taxing UK residents (who can be and are put in jail for non-payment of their TV licence), the BBC also makes a vast revenue from selling its programming abroad, with shows such as Top Gear and Dr Who being international hits.

Unsurprisingly, it hates the idea of people watching its shows for free (even though they have already been paid for by the British public), so on Tuesday it responded to an Australian government request by pushing for tougher anti-piracy legislation (short version),

ISPs should warn any alleged copyright infringers through a graduated notification system that what they are doing is illegal and, at the same time, educate them about the law, the importance of copyright to funding content and services they enjoy and where they can access the material they want legally… However, if the consumers do not abide by the notifications then more serious action may need to be taken.

So far so expected, yawn yawn. The next bit, however, made us sit up and take notice,

Since the evolution of peer-to-peer software protocols to incorporate decentralized architectures, which has allowed users to download content from numerous host computers, the detection and prosecution of copyright violations has become a complex task. This situation is further amplified by the adoption of virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers by some users, allowing them to circumvent geo-blocking technologies and further evade detection…

It is reasonable for ISPs to be placed under an obligation to identify user behavior that is ‘suspicious’ and indicative of a user engaging in conduct that infringes copyright. Such behavior may include the illegitimate use by Internet users of IP obfuscation tools in combination with high download volumes.

Really? So high volume internet use when connected to a VPN or proxy server should be considered proof of copyright infringement? Even the BBC recognizes that it has to qualify such a broad statement,

The determination of what an ’llegitimate’ use of such tools is, and the threshold of what would be considered a ‘high’ download volume over a period of time, would need to take into account legitimate explanations in order to avoid false positives and to safeguard the fundamental rights of consumers — such matters would be open to further industry discussion and agreement.

It is nevertheless a deeply worrying implication, and one that could have a very negative impact on our personal freedom, as it could be used as an excuse by governments to attack our fundamental human rights to privacy.

The BBC recommends a graduated response to copyright piracy (à la the United States’ six strikes law, which has had dubious success), while encouraging (yet again, surprise surprise) Australian ISPs to not only share responsibility for policing copyright abuses, but also to help foot the considerable bill this involves,

‘In light of the fact that a large inducement for internet users to become customers of ISPs is to gain access to content (whether legally or illegally), it is paramount that ISPs are required to take an active role in preventing and fighting online copyright infringement by establishing and contributing meaningfully to the cost of administering some form of graduated response scheme.

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

One response to “BBC says ISPs should suspect VPN users of copyright piracy

  1. I had not seen the article you linked to when saying “Even when trying to pay for content, Australians have been accused of piracy…”. It is behind an easily defeated paywall at The Australian – a “news”paper owned and controlled, and the mouthpiece of Rupert Murdoch.

    Interestingly enough, Rupert is also heavily invested in Foxtel – the effective monopoly “pay television” provider in Australia, which has very few buyers because of crap content. One of its more cynical recent endeavours was to buy all Australian rights to Game of Thrones – which had been briefly available for purchase by Australians through iTunes et al., after being allegedly the most pirated TV show by Australians.

    So – Rupert is saying that Australians who avoid his massive monopoly pricing by getting around geoblocks, and pay reasonable prices for content, are pirates and breaking the law. He is wrong, and his mouthpiece is wrong. There is nothing in Australian law to prevent the use of VPNs – there SHOULD be laws preventing geoblocking, as it goes against pretty much every other piece of current government rhetoric about “efficient economies”, and Australians pay 40-60% more for digital products than people in the US – this is not logical.

    Unfortunately the current Australian government is in power thanks to Rupert, so he may well get his way with the continued pillage of this country he left so long ago. He has already been able to stop the rollout of decent Internet, and I expect he has further plans to make more money for Rupert from those who can least afford him.

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