Beating the online pirates

Anything that can be represented digitally can be transmitted over the web. And if it can be transmitted legally by legitimate owners it can also be transmitted illegally by thieves. This is destroying the recorded music market, where the download size is small and the MP3 technology widely understood. So musicians are having to rely more on radio station and live performance income. In film it is difficult to replicate the experience of a real cinema and the downloads are big, but with broadband the incidence of theft of movies has become massive. And we all know that when it comes to games, piracy destroys whole formats once technical protection is bypassed. Just now we are seeing this in PC and PSP gaming. Boxed retail on both these formats has been decimated.

Of course all this stealing of huge amounts of data over the internet clogs things up for legitimate net users. Some estimates are that as much as 80% of all internet traffic is bit torrents, the technology used by these thieves (a small amount of this bit torrent traffic is actually legitimate). Obviously this is a huge inconvenience and cost to the whole internet which is why the internet service providers (ISPs) try and control it. They use technical means such as traffic shaping and bandwidth throttling to implement an acceptable use policy (AUP), often without telling the customers.

Quite frankly the ISPs would rather not have the thieves on their networks. Not only are their activities illegal, they also clog up and slow down the internet for everyone else. So consensus is moving to a three strikes and your out policy. Basically individual pirates are sent warning letters about their illegal activities. If they persist after three warnings then they are cut off. Leaving the internet more effective for legitimate users and helping prevent the billions in losses suffered by the music, film and gaming industries. Virgin, a large ISP in the UK is already doing this.

Now the three strikes policy is being implemented in European law. The “Telecom Packet” in front of the European parliament this week puts this in statute, though it will be up to individual countries to implement it. Let’s hope they do, and rigorously. Bit torrent has resulted in the biggest binge of stealing in human history, it is about time it was brought to an end.


  1. Virgin are pro-piracy. While they have been cracking down on BitTorrent, because soon all ISPs will… at the same time they improved their usenet, which is just as bad a source of piracy.

    Their entire advertising campaign was that you could download more and faster. It was obviously aimed at such people who need such ability and at the time that was mostly people using BitTorrent.

    The music market is not as dead as the people in music make out. Singles have been nicely replaced by getting the odd track off iTunes, and Album sales still do well because you can’t wrap up 1s and 0s on someone’s birthday. Word of mouth bands are becoming more popular than the manufactured because their music can be passed around more freely. The industry is changing, with legal downloads, 100% album, gig and merchandise contracts, and viral marketing. It’s far from dead.

    As I’ve said before on this blog…Piracy is bad. There needs to be a lot of policing to stop people putting this stuff up on the internet in the first place, if only to make a tidal wave more of a trickle while industries get used to the fact that the internet is here and people are always going to be tempted to get something for free.

    What I don’t like about this Blog is the very one sided view, on par with something in the Daily Mail, on the issue of piracy. People don’t respond to these posts because they are pro-piracy, it’s because they are anti-bias.

  2. Actually you have (I’m sure inadventantly) slightly misreported that link. It’s not “80% is bittorrent”, it’s “80% is P2P”. To use an analogy, you’ve just described all games machines as “That Nintendo”.

    It’s an important distinction since “P2P” also includes a much higher proportion of legal traffic, most notably stuff like the BBC’s iPlayer and 4OD.

    It was actually the iplayer that got ISP’s attention rather than Bittorrent, Kazaa, Emule or its ilk in terms of bandwidth use.

  3. Boy, I really love reading your blog. It is a fresh breath away from the likes of Kotaku and Joystiq which keeps recycling press releases branded as articles.

    Anyway, keep up the good work and here’s to your blogging success.

  4. As usual, Bruce, your hate of piracy blinds you. There are a lot of legal uses for P2P. There are countries where P2P for music and movies is legal, like Spain (not for software, though).

    And the “Telecom Packet” is just the *AAs trying to implement 1984. A mandatory software in every computer that spies everything you do on the net to decide if you have the right to do it?. You’ve got to be kidding me!

    Sorry, it is a price WAY too high to try to combat (not even beat) piracy, and anyone that thinks the means justify the end like that is just consenting to a digital Iraq.

    The three strikes won’t work. Nor will the spying. In the end, the *AAs, the distributors, everyone is just making everyone less and less likely to buy products. Keep treating me like a thief, and in the end you’ll force me to be one.

  5. Also, you should change your comment validation. One never knows when the comment arrived ok and is awaiting moderation, and when it just got lost!

  6. not to mention ant ftp systems, 3 strikes ok so idl a ptach for a game like wow through bittorrent or a free to play client like sword , how can they fdifferentiate between legal p2p and illigal p2p most files these fdays are compressed mislabled and passworded, makes it vbery hard to moniter.

    i do agree that piracy needs to stop

    but not at the cost of the net,
    even if you manage to stop bittorrents another system will take its place
    i dont see any viable way to stop it entirly
    every type of protection is hacked within days of coming out

  7. I’d love to know how this system is going to tell the difference between a truly illegal torrent, or me updating my copy of WoW or downloading a Linux distro? In short – it cannot *ever* determine if the traffic is illegal or not. It’s simply impossible. So instead they will try and tar all torrent traffic with the same brush. Truly ridiculous. Haven’t the EU got something better to be doing? Like, oh I don’t know, averting a global economic crisis?

  8. It would be nice if people would actually look up the definition of “stealing” and “theft” before they use it in an article. If I steal your wallet, then I have it and you don’t. If you steal my car, then you have it and I don’t. If I download a song from your computer, then we both have it, so how is this stealing? By no means am I saying illegal downloading is a good thing, I just don’t consider it to be stealing.
    As for stopping digital pirates, it can’t be done. Period. Pirates, IMO, are the pioneers of a new type of economy. Because they don’t pay for the digital media, companies are going to have to come up with new and better ways of making money of their products, such as offering free downloadable media with built in ads, similar to how TV offers free programs but with ads in between.
    And I would just like to point out: why would a person buy an .mp3 when they can watch the music video for free on youtube?

  9. “Quite frankly the ISPs would rather not have the thieves on their networks.”

    True now- but only recently.

    While the attitude 5-10 years ago was very much a neutral, “we don’t police the internet”, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the attitudes now that it’s video that’s (both legally and illegally) consuming large amounts of bandwidth while the ISPs are also selling TV services.

    Watch the latest episode of Doctor Who through Virgin and your speed gets throttled to 75%. In other words, you can’t use your unlimited 8Mb broadband to provide your television from iPlayer, 4OD, Sky Anytime, YouTube etc. etc.

    But you can pay to access iPlayer through Virgin or BT’s private VOD service…

  10. This post gives an interesting (unintended) insight into the reasoning (panic) that leads to the adoption of inappropriate DRM systems when only faulty or incomplete information is available.

    The BPI are lobbying hard to get laws like this in place, where ISPs would be forced to compromise their customers’ privacy to line the recording industry’s pockets. Such laws are as unworkable for an ISP as they would be for the Post Office.

    Where will the “thieves” kicked from one ISP go? Internet access is a utility now, and it is in no ISP’s interest to throw away customers for the sake of concerns about their infrastructure’s ability to cope. This is the very reason traffic shaping and throttling were implemented.

    I for one would not like to see the games industry adopt the same lazy and unscrupulous litigation-based tactics that have destroyed the reputation of the BPI and RIAA.

    Trying to better understand why people will choose to pay for games instead of pirate them (after all, piracy has always been an available option) would be more productive than fruitlessly looking for a ‘silver bullet’ to stop committed pirates.

  11. “The BPI are lobbying hard to get laws like this in place, where ISPs would be forced to compromise their customers’ privacy to line the recording industry’s pockets. Such laws are as unworkable for an ISP as they would be for the Post Office”

    Ooh I like this.

    Expecting ISPs to monitor all traffic everywhere is like expecting the Post Office to open and read all letters. Completely unacceptable on both a technical or moral background.

  12. So . . . . . we kill off bittorent, and everybody jumps onto mIRC and uses bots. Good luck in trying to differentiate between people sending legal and pirated data in that scenario. Piracy has killed the PC Bruce, i agree, we know, we get it . . . . . Its the only real reason the 360 and PS3 exists because they are harder to run illegal material

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