What started as a relatively narrow project designed to target online piracy in the UK, has turned into something else entirely. Three years ago, UK internet service providers (ISPs) had a list of around 40 domains they were ordered to block. Since then, the list has ballooned to over 3,800 URLs, most of which are proxies and mirror sites.
The UK’s providers first started blocking websites that have been deemed to possibly breach copyright back in May 2012, after the music industry requested the court action against The Pirate Bay. A High Court ruling regarding the mandatory blocking affects the UK’s major ISPs: BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and EE. Smaller ISPs are not required to block the websites.
However, it seems that instead of ‘going legal’ many Internet users have simply moved on to sites that remain unblocked, or found other tricks to bypass the restrictions. Use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) has increased significantly, allowing users to spoof their physical location and access various sites from outside the UK. Of course, the increase in the VPN use may also be attributed to another reason — the surveillance regime that critics have called the most intrusive in the West.
The blocking action has also prompted piracy websites to become more creative. Sites often simply switch to a new domain name or create multiple mirror sites to avoid the court orders.
Nevertheless, the UK blocking orders allow copyright holders to widen the blocking lists without having to apply for a new order. This means that if The Pirate Bay creates a new proxy site, rights holders can require ISPs to add the URL to their anti-piracy filter and block it. This also means that some sites may be included in the blocking list subjectively as there is no proper judicial oversight.
The result is a seemingly never-ending cat and mouse game, where sites keep switching from one domain to another, and copyright holders keep expanding the blocking list.