Australia's experiment with pirate site blocking has produced what many will call positive results, but it also provided plenty of ammunition for those opposed to the regime.
Australia's Department of Communications and the Arts this past week published a report for a consumer survey conducted recently. The Australian government conducts the same survey on an annual basis, and this year, it includes the results of user activity after the introduction of piracy site blocking. The data from the survey will allow the government to gauge consumer sentiment, and to find out if the site blocking regime is working, and if so, how well.
On first glance, at least if those surveyed are to be believed, it appears that site blocking has had an effect, with the percentage of people consuming illegal content down from 38% a year before to 33%.
The percentage of people who say they only consume pirated content remained largely the same, but the people who say they use a mix of legal and illegal content, had decreased the most.
What may worry lawmakers, and rights-holders, is that despite fewer people pirating content, the amount of content being pirated has increased, sometimes dramatically.
For example, the number of illegal songs being downloaded surged to 292 million, from 184 million, up more than 58%. The same trend is repeated across the other categories of games, movies and TV shows, the count of illegal downloads for the latter more than doubled from 2017 to 2018.
No explanation has been given to this surge in downloads, but one possible explanation is that the increased legal scrutiny over downloads and the advent of site blocking, has forced pirates to invest in protective and by-pass services such as VPNs, and this added "security" now allows them to download more freely without worrying about the consequences.
The survey does indicate that for those escaping the blockade, 30% opted for a VPN service, while 21% used a proxy site. Interestingly, 15% went with the "Google Translate" option, which allows blocked sites to be accessed via accessing Google's stored version - this suggests that the blockade can be easily bypassed, if needed.
Despite this, the number of people choosing to escape the blockade is only a minority of users. Only 17% of those surveyed (including those that say they don't use pirated content) say that they will attempt to bypass the blockade or find alternative unblocked sites, while 57% say they simply just give up.
Finally, the report could not definitively suggest that the lower piracy rate is directly responsible for higher earnings by the entertainment industry. In fact, the people who say they use a mix of illegal and legal content, and there were fewer of these types of consumer in 2018, are actually the higher spenders compared to those who only buy legally. It could be argued that people are already spending as much as they're able comfortably, and they would simply choose to consume less if faced with fewer piracy options, and thus, this would not lead to increased profits for rights-holders.