Which sites does my ISP block?
Which ISPs block Pirate Bay and other filesharing sites? Are there some that don't?
Following court orders, most UK broadband providers block some sites that can facilitate piracy.
In this article we look at what's blocked, by who and how.
As of the headline date of this article, the following filesharing sites are blocked by the UK's biggest six ISPs:
- KickAss Torrents (Kat.ph)
- The Pirate Bay
The big six are BT (including Plusnet), Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, O2 (including Be) and EE (formally Orange).
Find more on market share here.
The sites won't be blocked from search results and links to them will still appear elsewhere but trying to view them will result in an error message like the one shown above from Virgin Media.
In response to the blocks most filesharing sites have set up proxy sites, which weren't subsequently blocked because they weren't named in the court order.
As of June 2013, however, ISPs are blocking a huge number of proxies as well.
Even without proxies, it is possible for the determined to get around the blocking method the ISPs use - Cleanfeed, see below for more details - but rights holders claim that the number of people with the technical know how, not to mention get up and go, to do so is small.
With proxies, where the same site is hosted on a slightly different address and easily accessible through search engines (so, for example, Kickassunblock.info), that argument falls down.
As a result, it looked likely that rights holders would be forced to play an expensive game of whack a mole: blocking new proxies as the sites created them.
Instead, however, they simply obtained an update to their court order requiring ISPs to block an updatable list of proxies. So now their blocks have more bite.
To be blocked
As well as proxies, other sites seem likely to be blocked soon.
According to Recombu, FirstRow1.eu, a sports streaming site that has provoked the ire of the Premier League, EZTV and YIFY-Torrents looks to be next for the block.
In addition, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) surveyed its membership of media rights holders in May about a huge number of other sites including torrent sites like 1337x, BitSnoop and ExtraTorrent; file search engines like Filestube and music streaming sites like Grooveshark.
It did the same thing before obtaining the court orders to block the sites above so an order with the intention of blocking a large number of sites looks likely in the near future.
How sites are blocked
Let's take a closer look at how sites get blocked in the first place.
Copyright holders have long bought infringement cases to the courts, for example, against BT in 2010.
In June 2011, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) took out an injunction to force BT to block a filesharing site called Newzbin. The injunction was granted within a month in the High Court.
With precedent on their side injunctions for Sky and other big ISPs soon followed.
Newzbin moved to a new domain - Newzbin2.es - and shut down altogether at the end of 2012.
In April 2012, the High Court ruled in favour of rights holders once again, ISPs blocked The Pirate Bay a month later, and the sites above were blocked the same way since then.
Rights holders had a strong case in part because ISPs already block sites using technology called Cleanfeed.
Cleanfeed was developed by BT in 2003 and all ISPs started using it to block a list provided by the police - largely child abuse sites - in 2007.
Cleanfeed is best thought of as a 'URL blacklist' system: when a user tries to access a blocked URL the ISP checks for a match and diverts traffic through the Cleanfeed Web proxy which does the actual blocking.
It's a simple system and thus actually rather easy to get around.
If you're interested in the technical aspects Ofcom have a really interesting feasibility study available here [pdf] but basically if you know the URL it's possible to, for example, use a virtual private network (VPN) or for the site owner to register a new domain or use a proxy, as above.
Sites could also publicise methods for getting around DNS blocking through, hard to block methods such as email, forum posts, RSS Feeds or Twitter.
Unblocked: the smallest ISPs
In all of the above, we're talking about injunctions imposed on the UK's biggest ISPs: between them, they supply internet access to about 95% of households in the UK.
For all the reasons that we mention above, it seems unlikely that users of filesharing sites would go so far as to switch ISP to avoid blocks, however.
BitTorrent traffic does not seem to be decreasing and Pirate Bay like to boast that all the publicity actually gives them a boost so overall it seems filesharers are getting by.