Researchers: payment processors the key to piracy fight

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An international study suggests current efforts to crack down on piracy on “one-click” or “cyberlocker” sites are largely ineffective. The authors suggest the most productive way to reduce piracy on such sites is to follow the money.

The research was carried out at Boston’s Northeastern University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Vienna University of Technology. It was intended as an “empirical effort to quantify the supply side of One-Click Hosting-based piracy¬†with respect to current and proposed anti-piracy measures,” something the authors considered important because “Currently, the public debate mainly relies on partisan arguments and opinions…”

The study looked specifically at one-click sites that allow direct downloading, rather than torrents, newsgroups or other filesharing methods. Using FilesTube, a site that lets users search multiple file-hosting, the researchers searched for a variety of specific and generic terms. All in all, they found files available at 9,285 different domain names, linking to 4,478 different IP addresses.

The researchers also discovered that not only are virtually all files on such sites infringing copyrights, but such sites are a much more effective way of getting what you are after than using peer-to-peer networks. Of the files they downloaded and inspected, 93 percent were definitely what they claimed to be. Of the remainder, some were correctly labelled files that had been placed in the wrong category, and some were password protected. That left only a handful that appeared to be bogus.

Another aspect of the study looked at how long the average link lasted. For almost every site studied, more than half of all links were still active 30 days after being uploaded. That suggests that most files only disappear because of site policies to delete files from non-premium members after a month, not because the site has removed a link because of a copyright complaint. The results also showed that for the most part any link that is still online five days after being uploaded will remain untouched until its auto-deletion. Note that the true picture may be worse for copyright holders as the research looked at links rather than individual files (which may have been uploaded multiple times.)

According to the researchers, the best you can say about current takedown systems is that they are visible and may cause a nuisance in the form of the occasional broken links. In the big picture, they are a very limited tactic that can’t keep up with the sheer number of sites and files.

Turning to other anti-piracy measures, the researchers concluded that tactics such as seizing domain names are usually only effective in cutting down piracy locally and don’t have a global effect. Even shutting down a major website “has little immediate effect on file availability” and its main practical benefit is that it scares off some would-be filesharers.

With all this in mind, the researchers believe the most effective anti-piracy method would be economics based. They say the biggest vulnerability for operators of such sites is the need to get the money to cover operating costs and turn a profit, so measures that prevent them from getting advertising or accepting payments would be the most effective tools.

The researchers also make a point that will be welcome news to many users of copyright-infringing services: “Given our ?ndings that highlight the dif?culties of reducing the supply of pirated content, it appears to be promising to follow a complementary strategy of reducing the demand for pirated content, e.g., by providing legitimate offers that are more attractive to consumers than pirating content.”