The UK's Piracy Battle Is an Ongoing Arms Race

The anti-piracy campaign ramps up, but how effective is it?

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Oct 10 2015, 1:00pm

Image: Thomas Brownell/Flickr

The struggle between the creative industries and digital pirates is like a game of cat and mouse. And since the UK's anti-piracy campaign launched in July 2015, it continues to heat up.

The anti-piracy campaign aims to combat digital piracy and illegal filesharing in the UK by sending out email warnings to people torrenting illegally. Initially, four warning emails are sent. Hatton & Berkeley, a UK-based financial services firm and Maverick Eye, a German firm tracking copyright infringements, are two of the names who have joined the ranks to clamp down on digital pirates.

Just last week, TorrentFreak reported that Maverick Eye and Hatton and Berkeley were intending on upping their part of the game by releasing a new wave of enforcement actions against copyright infringers (a move TorrentFreak criticised as copyright trolling). Patrick Achache, a consultant at Maverick Eye, said that the firm collaborated with clients to stop a select group of the worst file sharing offenders.

But will the increasingly aggressive action help the beleaguered creative industry to stem the tide of savvy file-sharing internet users? Or will torrenting sites and their consumers keep evading detection?

"The data and information on how effective this has been hasn't been that transparent."

Andres Guadamuz, an intellectual property law researcher at Sussex University, remains divided on these anti-piracy efforts.

"The industry thinks that this is the best thing that they can do at the moment, but the data and information on how effective this has been hasn't been that transparent," Guadamuz told me. "Their systems are not open to scrutiny."

He explained how current efforts worked. "The tracking system tracks the IP addresses of people who are sharing, and they try to identify them through the internet service providers, and having identified them, they send settlement letters," he said.

Guadamuz said that there were several problems with this model. For one, the most adept sharers could easily mask their identities and activities by hiding behind some form of protection, whether that be a VPN or a proxy server like Tor. There's also the possibility of catching out the wrong person, as many people sharing files do it on wifi that isn't registered in their name.

"They'll be catching people with very low security wireless spots. And just because someone is sharing a file in a household it doesn't mean that everyone in that household is going to be infringing copyright," said Guadamuz.

"The struggle between digital pirates and copyright holders to an 'ongoing arms race.'"

But the creative industry and its keepers are up for a fight.

"We're at a point where [illegal filesharing] can't continue," Robert Croucher, the CEO of Hatton & Berkeley, told me. "In the UK, tens of thousands of jobs will go by the wayside."

Croucher, who also works as a film exec, said that for the past few years it had become harder for the film industry to attract potential investors to a market they deemed susceptible to profit losses owing to illegal filesharing.

Joss Wright, a researcher at Oxford's Internet Institute, compared the ongoing struggle between digital pirates and copyright holders to an "ongoing arms race," with the former infinitely reproducing digital files online, and the latter ferociously trying to come up with new techniques to stop this.

According to Wright, the current trend is to track people and to create an atmosphere of fear that prevents people from sharing files. He predicted that if technologies deployed by companies such as Maverick Eye become more widely used, the next step in the arms race would see an "increase in more anonymised forms of filesharing," with the tech to avoid tracking systems improving in parallel to the tech used to hunt down digital pirates.

"Filesharing is here to stay, people want to see the last episode of Downton Abbey. As long as it's easy and low risk, they'll share files," said Wright. "Ultimately, despite the debatable claims of the harms it's doing to the creative industry, there's a perception that filesharing isn't genuinely causing a lot of damage."

Correction 10/13: Joss Wright's last quote has been slightly altered to clarify his position on filesharing, specifically to add that the claimed harms it poses to the creative industry are debatable. Wright disagrees that filesharing is necessarily harming creative industries.

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