While entertainment companies and authorities believe they are necessary to stem the tide of online infringement, many current anti-piracy strategies are putting Internet users at risk. Domain suspensions, seizures, plus search engine down-rankings are all playing a part in creating a less-safe online environment.
While it’s not entirely clear when the theory first appeared, the notion that cutting the head off one file-sharing site results in the creation of several others has been in circulation for many years.
The analogy, regularly referred to as the file-sharing ‘hydra’, is often deployed in response to action taken by entertainment companies and local authorities. Tripping off tongues somewhat easily, the defensive reaction paints anti-piracy measures as a futile waste of time.
Nevertheless, the outrage these measures often provoke suggest that they do have some impact, if only the raising of blood pressure and gnashing of teeth among site users. Whether or not they reduce overall piracy rates long-term remains to be seen, but right now these strategies are almost certainly undermining the safety of Internet users.
Domain attacks – blocks
Attacks against site domains come in various shapes and sizes but all are designed to limit a site’s ability to remain operational. While they are undoubtedly an annoyance to site owners, they also cause problems for site users.
For example, many leading ‘pirate’ sites are blocked by ISPs in the UK. The blocks are easily circumvented using a VPN but in the case of some of the bigger sites, hundreds of proxy and mirror sites have appeared to facilitate access.
The end result is that there are now dozens of Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents clones, lookalikes, mirrors and proxies. Long live the hydra, right? Well not quite.
We’ve already seen the chaos and confusion these sites can cause and the situation isn’t getting any better. It is now very likely that hundreds of thousands of casual users think they are using a relatively trustworthy known site when they are not. Sadly, many clones are filled with aggressive and sometimes malicious ads not present on the original site.
Domain attacks – suspensions and seizures
As documented on many previous occasions, a key strategy of the entertainment industries is to put pressure on domain companies and registries to stop them providing domains to pirate sites. One of the sites hit on a number of occasions is KickassTorrents (KAT).
KAT has lost several domains in recent years including KAT.ph (music industry action), Kickass.so (unconfirmed) and more recently KickassTorrents.im.
Currently the site is operating from KAT.cr (Costa Rica) but ever since the last switch a steady stream of apparently confused site users have been writing to TF and posting on sites including Reddit.
“I never had to sign up for KAT before, why is it asking me to now?” one asked.
“Why is Kickass asking for my credit card details?” questioned another.
Obviously one of these questions is more serious than the other, but both have straightforward explanations. Some users are so confused about which domain the site is operating from they are using any number of fake sites instead, some of which are asking for credit card details.
It’s a horrible situation provoked entirely by action against the official site’s domains, but are so many casual users being affected?
Search engine downranking
For years Hollywood and the recording industry have been placing immense pressure on Google to stop presenting ‘pirate’ sites in its search results. After resisting for some time, Google began tweaking it algorithms to downrank sites that have the most copyright complaints logged against them.
In October 2014, Google made its biggest changes yet which resulted in traffic to torrent and other file-sharing sites taking a nosedive. And now, thanks to decisions made by Google, a simple search for KickassTorrents presents listings that do not include the real site at all, but fake sites looking for money instead.
Deliberate disruption – but at what cost?
While blocks are easily circumvented, it is clear that forcing sites from domain to domain undermines their reputation with users. To those not keeping up with the news on a regular basis, disappearing sites seem unreliable due to their own incompetence. When they are ‘found’ using Google but then start asking for credit card details, users must really begin to think the worst.
While this must be music to the ears of Hollywood and the music industry, one has to question how many innocent victims are getting caught up in this mess.
“I registered for a free trial to obtain pdf of washing machine manual but ended up with free trial of Fat Games which is all games, so had to ring this number to cancel trial,” said a user of the dubious service running hand-in-hand with fake site KickassTorrents.to.
Living in the ghetto
The instances detailed above are just the tip of the iceberg. With every new seizure, suspension and blockade, more scammers will see opportunities to make money by tricking users to sign up to bogus services while obtaining their credit card details by deception.
Of course, none of these problems can be blamed directly on the music or movie companies since they aren’t the ones running the scams. That being said, whenever concern is expressed for the well-being of Internet users supposedly exposed to malware on pirate sites, at some point that concern should be extended to those subjected to malware and identity fraud as a result of anti-piracy strategies.
Yeah, don’t hold your breath.