Website blocking has become one of the favorite anti-piracy tools of the entertainment industries in recent years.
The UK is a leader in the area, with the High Court ordering local ISPs to block access to many popular file-sharing sites.
These blocks have some effect, at least in preventing subscribers from accessing the domains directly. However, there are plenty of alternative routes pirates can use instead.
Blocked sites and people who support them often create so-called reverse proxies. These allow users to access blocked pages through a new domain name, bypassing the restrictions put in place by the court. At least, for as long as it lasts.
The nature of the UK blocking orders allows copyright holders to expand the blocklists without having to file a new case. This means that if The Pirate Bay has a new proxy, rightsholders can instruct Internet providers to add this domain to their anti-piracy filter and block it.
As a result of this extension power, the list of blocked UK domains has grown substantially over the years. While there is generally little transparency, information provided to us by one of the ISPs involved shows that thousands of domain names have been added to it already.
In total, the ISP is required to block a massive 3,814 URLs, most of which are proxies. Some of these have a duplicate entry, listing both the www and non-www version of the domain.
For The Pirate Bay alone, several hundred domains appear on this list, which will undoubtedly expand in the future.
A key player in the ‘proxy blocking war’ is Unblocked, which provides a range of proxies through which many blocked sites are readily accessible. The site and its proxies are often added to the blocklist as well, but these blocks are quickly evaded.
“Anytime we receive multiple reports of the site being blocked, we redirect to a new domain that same day. It’s become quite a simple routine now, and we don’t expect to give up anytime soon,” Unblocked’s owner previously told us.
“Considering the popularity of Unblocked in the UK, I don’t think their strategy is an effective way to deal with piracy. Our traffic data doesn’t show any major changes after our many domain changes.”
Not all site operators are as persistent as Unblocked’s but it’s clear that with more than 3,800 URLs, the whac-a-mole game is far from over. Copyright holders will keep adding new entries to the blocklists, while site owners continue to hop from domain to domain.
Meanwhile, the pirate blocklist keeps growing, with the number of URLs moving closer to five digits.