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Blocking Multiple Piracy Websites Can Decrease Levels of Piracy

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Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that blocking access to piracy websites not only decreases the overall level of piracy but also increases the number of people turning to legitimate subscription options—but only if a large number of sites are blocked.

News 1Researchers examined three cases of piracy sites being blocked in the U.K.: one that blocked a single major site in 2012, one that blocked 19 sites in 2013, and one that blocked 53 video piracy sites in 2014. When a single site was blocked, viewers simply switched to other pirate sites. But when multiple sites were blocked online piracy rates fell and the use of legal subscription sites grew by 7% and 12%.

In all three cases, no infringing content was taken down. The blocking simply removed easy access.

If blocking is this successful, why isn't it used more? Partially, because there was no evidence it worked. But now there is.

"One reason we haven't seen more blocking programs is that there was a great deal of debate about whether it would be successful or not," explains Michael D. Smith, a professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College and Tepper School of Business and a co-author of this study. "Ours is the first peer reviewed academic study to empirically show that blocking can be effective at both decreasing piracy and increasing legal consumption. With empirical evidence in place, more countries may give consideration to blocking programs. For example, the High Court of Delhi cited our research in an April 2019 decision that required ISPs in India to block pirate sites."

This data comes from The Effect of Piracy Website Blocking on Consumer Behavior, which will appear in an upcoming issue of MIS Quarterly. The research was done by Carnegie Mellon's Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, which is supported by funding from the Motion Picture Association.

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