Collateral Damage Not Russian Site-Blocking's Only Failure: Pirate Video Market Has Doubled As Well

from the fail-and-fail-and-fail dept

Over the summer, we discussed how laughably bad Russia's efforts at blocking so-called "piracy sites" has been. In the course of four years of attempting to stamp out copyright infringement in the country, the Russian government managed to block 4,000 sites it intended to target as piracy sites, and 41,000 sites it had not intended to target that were caught up as collateral damage. Those are the kind of numbers that would make a cluster bomb blush.

Even so, you might have imagined that this heavy-handed iron-fist routine must surely have had some reduction effect on the rate of piracy in Russia. The short answer to that is: nooooooope. Instead, over the course of the past few years, the market for pirated video content in Russia has doubled.

According to new research published by Group-IB and reported by Izvestia, Internet pirates have been adapting to their new reality, finding new and stable ways of doing business while growing their turnover.

In fact, according to the ‘Economics of Pirate Sites Report 2016’, they’ve been so successful that the market for Internet pirate video more than doubled in value during 2016, reaching a peak of 3.3 billion rubles ($57.2m) versus just 1.5 billion rubles ($26m) in 2015. Overall Internet piracy in 2016 was valued at a billion rubles more ($74.5m), Group-IB notes.

So what's going on here? Well, the Russian government is learning the invaluable lesson that the internet is built to route around this kind of censorship. That old adage aside, what's actually occurring is the start of an arms-race between website operators in Russia and the government agencies dedicated to stopping them. And the government is losing. Badly.

Overall, it’s estimated that the average pirate video site makes around $156,000 per year via advertising, subscriptions, or via voluntary donations. They’re creative with their money channels too.

According to Maxim Ryabyko, Director General of Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPO), sites use middle-men for dealing with both advertisers and payment processors, which enables operators to remain anonymous.

This sort of shell game being employed by possibly truly pirate-y websites is the same one played by all kinds of websites looking to survive attempts at censorship. Where we might decry a site doing this to offer up video content that infringes copyright, we would applaud its use if the site were advocating for free speech, fair and open elections, etc. In other words, it's the censorship that is bad, not necessarily the actions of those routing around it.

And, more to the point, it doesn't work. In the face of these damning numbers, the Russian government has two options: give up or censor even harder. The latter will, naturally, result in even more of the collateral damage that has already been inflicted. Still, it seems the more likely scenario.

Filed Under: piracy, russia, site blocking

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  1. icon
    McGyver (profile), 1 Nov 2017 @ 4:21pm

    Not the greatest comparison... Not to say its not on the mark about the mechanics, but the main problem with the equation is the Russian government probably knows who all the biggest pirates are and as long as they pay their dues, the Russians will let them continue doing what they do... They have no interest in stoping them.
    I'd bet piracy increased because the competition decreased... That and do you really think Russian has a vested interest in preventing piracy of non-Russian anything...
    Maybe they frown on pirating Russian stuff, (the minority of what is pirated) but I'm sure they are really "concerned" about anything western, never mind American.
    Yeah, they'll lock up the small players and anyone standing too close, but the big dogs run free...
    As long as the government makes a lot of noise and it looks like they are doing their job, that's all that matters... "Look citizens we are fighting crime"... Well, crime that doesn't pay us to look the other way.
    The Russian government is so in league with organized crime, it's like another branch of their government... Who do you think provides most of the thugs that beat up protester or threaten reporters.
    So yeah, heavy handed attempts usually fail and end up doing more harm then good... But when the attempt was not really intended to stop the real culprits, was it an attempt at all?

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