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Will ISP Piracy Warnings Cause More Brits to Use VPNs?

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

January 12, 2017

The UK has decided to join scores of other governments from around the world by permitting internet service providers (ISPs) to send out letters for piracy. The educational letters, already sent to offenders in countries like the US and France, will be sent to customers in order to deter them from downloading copyrighted material.

The decision from the UK government is believed to be a concerted effort to crack down on piracy using P2P. This is prolific in the UK. A 2009 study undertaken by Harris Interactive on behalf of the British Phonographic Industry, discovered that 29% of people surveyed used peer to peer file sharing networks.

In 2016, the UK’s IP crime report revealed that piracy products like IPTV and Kodi, as well as the use of torrent sites and stream ripping, are all extremely prolific. That study was undertaken as a joint project between the UK’s IP Crime Group and the Intellectual Property Office. As a result of the study, ISPs have been instructed to send out warnings to consumers.

Too Little too Late?

BT, Virgin Media, and Sky will all begin sending out the warning letters (in the form of emails) to offenders on 17 January. TalkTalk will join them at the end of the month. In the UK, where this has been planned for a number of years, the decision is viewed as controversial. In addition, many experts feel that it is too late and will not deter UK consumers from pursuing habits that have become ingrained into daily life.

happy-pirate

Anti-piracy groups, however, disagree. They feel that it is never too late to begin educating the UK about the *cough* “dangers” of piracy. The IP crime report published last year states:

“Perhaps the area where IP crime statistics most often reach jaw-dropping levels is in relation to the industries providing digital content.

“During a sample three-month period last year, 28% of those questioned admitted their music downloads in the UK came from illegal sources. Similarly, 23% of films, 22% of software, 16% of TV and 15% of games were downloaded in breach of copyright.”

TV Piracy Spike

The report found that it was in the area of TV shows that piracy was slowly creeping up. It is a trend that the government is keen to clamp down on. From the report:

“The reasons for the spike in TV copyright infringement appear to be, in part, technological, with ‘unofficial services’ such as uTorrent, BitTorrent, TV catch up apps and established sources such as YouTube offering content without legal certainty.”

Growing levels of piracy are considered by the government to be unsustainable. Content producers are constantly lobbying the government to curb piracy once and for all. Thus it comes as no surprise that the decision has been made to start warning pirates. So, what does this mean for UK consumers?

The Warning Letter

A sample letter of the kind that pirates can expect to get after 17 January has been disclosed. It reads as follows:

“Get It Right from a Genuine Site’ has got in touch with us.

Get it Right is a government-backed campaign acting for copyright owners who think their content’s been shared without their permission.

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.”

Following that information, it provides a list of the specific pirated content believed to have been accessed. It also advises people to visit a website full of “tips and advice on how to stop it happening again.”

piracy warning

Peer to Peer

Get it Right from a Genuine Site is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that monitors the use of peer to peer (P2P) networks. It is thought that the majority of the letters will, in the beginning, be sent to people who frequently use torrents to download large amounts of content. On its website, the NGO’s mission statement reads as follows:

“We’re here to help you get the music, TV, films, games, books, newspapers, magazines and sport that you love from genuine services and support UK creativity. Every time you watch, listen, read or play, you make a choice, either to support the things you love and help them flourish and grow, or to contribute nothing. By supporting what you love, you invest in creating more of it and the development of new artists and ideas. So, get it right from a genuine site.”

With this guilt trip style of propaganda, the UK government hopes to deter consumers from pirating the content they love. However, recent years have taught us that this opinion isn’t all is seems to be.

Game of Thrones

In 2013, Game of Thrones was announced to be the most pirated TV show ever. According to Alan Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner (the parent company of HBO, which makes Game of Thrones), being the most pirated TV show was “better than winning an Emmy.” This is a trend that is not unusual, either. Piracy is a fantastic form of free advertising. When people download something and enjoy it they tell their friends about it and word of mouth advertising is the best form of advertising.

got-uk-piracy

As such, contrary to the view that piracy harms content producers, many within the industry believe the opposite is true. In addition, although some 16% of people do (at times) pirate some TV content, the majority of people don’t. With that in mind, it is easy to see how the 16% could easily stimulate the rest of the market to spend their money on genuine uptake methods.

Time Warner CEO Alan Bewkes certainly accepts that this is true. Commenting on Game of Thrones’ success as the most-watched TV show on Earth he said:

“The much-discussed fantasy series is HBO’s most popular TV show, and if you go to people who are watching it without subs, it’s a tremendous word-of-mouth thing…

We’ve been dealing with this for 20, 30 years—people sharing subs, running wires down the backs of apartment buildings. Our experience is that it leads to more paying subs. I think you’re right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world and that’s better than an Emmy.”

Outdated Methods

The real question is whether content producers are stuck in the manufacturing paradigm or not, because content uptake methods have changed vastly in the past decade. The rise of Netflix shows us that consumers simply aren’t interested in physical copies anymore. The last generation was excited by collecting vinyl, videos, CDs and DVDs, but the last ten years have revealed that to be a folly.

Manufactured copies of content must be stored, taken care of, and transported. They can also get damaged. The new digital age has proven that it is the content rather than the medium that is now valued by consumers, who have clearly voted in favor of ease of access and greater choice. Content producers that have lagged behind the times and failed to establish deals with the likes of Amazon Prime and Netflix are failing.

Even the UK’s IP crime report admits that music piracy is on its way down. When one thinks about iTunes, Beatport, and Spotify, and how those services have revolutionized music uptake, it is easy to see that piracy isn’t the problem.

uk-vpn-piracy

A VPN for Privacy and Security

UK residents hell bent on continuing to help TV shows be even more popular (by pirating) should strongly consider using a VPN. A VPN service allows subscribers to mask their IP address (your distinctive internet address) by spoofing it to a different location. In addition to masking a subscriber’s location, VPNs provide varying levels of encryption. The very best encryption (OpenVPN protocol), if implemented correctly will stop both ISPs and the government from being able to detect piracy.

Snooper’s Charter

In addition, in November of last year the UK government passed the Investigatory Powers Bill. The legislation forces ISPs to retain web browsing histories and metadata for a year. That legislation, which is now in full swing, allows the government to check every website that each IP address has visited for the last year. With that in mind, people who care about their privacy and want to avoid being flagged up as a pirate would do well to splash out on an industry-leading VPN for the UK (about £60 per year on average).

The Good News

The good news is that despite the new plans to deter users, as of yet there are no plans to enforce any kind of penalty within the UK.

relieved-phew

In the US and France, a three strikes system has been in place for a few years now. That system results in fines or prolonged internet cuts for pirates who continue to offend after being warned.

Luckily for UK residents, the government does not (yet) intend to dish out any repercussions. In addition, it is believed that the campaign will be focussing on P2P torrent sharers. As such, people who stream should be ok – for now. Ernesto van der Sar, editor of TorrentFreak has made the following comment:

“Since the piracy alerts only target peer to peer sharing, they will have less of an impact today than they would have had a few years ago. Due to the relatively small number of notices that will be sent to users and the fact that there are no consequences for getting ‘caught’, I expect the deterrent effect to be minimal. As for the educational part, most pirates are already aware of the legal alternatives. They simply have no desire to pay or can’t find what they want on authorised channels.”

Speculative Invoicing

One final thing to bear in mind, however, is that although the government only plans on educating users, content producers are not so lenient. The last few years has seen the rise of an activity called speculative invoicing. This is when copyright holders that discover pirates send out letters of their own (using a legal firm) to threaten pirates. Normally those letters threaten court action unless a fine is paid – usually around £200 (but that have been known to be as high as £800).

With such activities on the rise within the UK (and around the world), the Snooper’s Charter and the new letter system means there has never been a better time for UK citizens to splash out on a VPN service!

 

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