By Pratyeka (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

By Pratyeka (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,


The Case Against the Bell Coalition’s Website Blocking Plan, Part 8: The Ineffectiveness of Website Blocking

The Bell website blocking coalition unsurprisingly argues that blocking “regimes have been widely adopted internationally because they have been proven to work.” The submission cites data from several countries including the UK, Portugal, and South Korea. As demonstrated last week, the Bell coalition proposal has not been widely adopted internationally. In fact, the overwhelming majority of countries have rejected approaches that do not include court orders. Moreover, a closer look at the data reveals that website blocking is far less effective than its proponents claim.

The reports and studies on the effectiveness of website blocking often contain conflicting data. For example, INCOPRO, which sells site blocking services including lists of sites to block (and therefore has an obvious vested interest in promoting their effectiveness) has issued several studies on blocking. A 2017 INCOPRO study on the effectiveness of Australian website blocking points to reduction in piracy rates but also examined usage of a list of 250 unauthorized sites:

Usage of the top 250 sites in Australia decreased by 4% (204,843) when comparing March 2017 to October 2016. Usage of the same sites reduced by 13% for the global (excluding Australia) group and by 10.8% for the global control group.

The study attributes the fact that Australian declines with site blocking were lower than global averages by acknowledging that “there may have been an increase in the usage of some unblocked sites as a result of the most popular site being blocked.” INCOPRO released a new report on Australia this week that claims continued declines in piracy rates, but still contained evidence that even blocked sites show growth in Australia. For instance, the report references new blocked sites such as According to SimilarWeb, Australia remains the top traffic source for site with its share increasing, not decreasing.

The likely shift of users to other sites or services unless massive blocking systems are deployed has been replicated in studies around the world. For example, a UK study found little impact when the Pirate Bay was blocked with authors concluding that effectiveness depended on far broader blocking efforts. A Dutch study on blocking the Pirate Bay went even further. Despite the expectation of reduced piracy rates:

no such effect is found. Instead, the percentage downloading films & series, games and books from illegal sources in the preceding six months increased between May and November/December 2012, while downloading music from illegal sources remained constant. This implies that any behavioural change in response to blocking access to TPB has had no lasting net impact on the overall number of downloaders from illegal sources, as new consumers have started downloading from illegal sources and people learn to circumvent the blocking while new illegal sources may be launched, causing file sharing to increase again

Many studies suffer from technical shortcomings given the inability to actually track the impact of users shifting to VPNs in order to preserve their privacy and evade blocking efforts. For example, the INCOPRO studies contain a key exclusion:

General purpose VPN and proxy services have been excluded because they allow users to access any website of their choice. As a result, it cannot be definitively concluded that they are being used to access unauthorised sites.

In addition to INCOPRO’s vested interest in claiming that site blocking is effective, the reliability of the data is therefore questionable given that it does not account for users who rely on VPNs for their Internet usage.

In fact, there are no shortage of studies and court rulings that conclude site blocking has little impact:

  • The UK’s OFCOM’s 2010 study on site blocking concluded “any injunction scheme operated under sections 17 and 18 of the DEA is unlikely to give rise to a sufficient level of actions to have a material impact on levels of copyright infringement.”
  • The UK’s 2017 online copyright infringement tracker found no change in the percentage of users accessing unauthorized content online from the prior year.
  • A similar consumer study in Australia obtained the same results with 2017 levels of infringement remaining the same from the prior year.
  • A 2015 study by the Council of Europe states plainly that “blocking is not very effective in general.”
  • Italy is often touted as an example for site blocking, yet piracy rates of movies has only declined by 4% since 2010 and the rate of television piracy has increased significantly over the same period.
  • In Spain, one study found piracy rates dropping by 4%, but some sectors saw an increase and MUSO report ranked Spain as the 4th highest country in the world for piracy ranking, despite the existence of website blocking.
  • The ineffectiveness of Pirate Bay blocking led a Dutch court to lift a court ordered block in 2014, concluding “the block is not justified and will no longer be enforced.”
  • A 2015 European Commission sponsored study that tracked the effect of shutting down a popular German video streaming site found only short-lived reductions in piracy levels as users gravitated to other sources.

The ineffectiveness of website blocking was perhaps best illustrated by an example from the MUSO report relied upon by the Bell coalition., which is identified by MUSO as sample streaming site, is on the blocklist in both Australia and the UK (both established through court rulings, not administrative hearings). Despite being blocked in Australia and the UK, SimilarWeb reports that site visits to are greater in both Australia and the UK than in Canada. Canada is also declining faster as a traffic source than Australia, the UK, and the United States.

Site blocking is touted by the Bell coalition as a proverbial silver bullet to its piracy concerns. The case against the Bell coalition proposal has already addressed the weak evidence on the state of Canadian piracy and its limited impact. Yet even if the piracy claims were taken at face value, studies from around the world indicate only limited impact from site blocking in the longer term. Given the many negative effects of site blocking (including over-blocking and the expansion to other areas), the risks far outweigh the benefits.


  1. Kelly Manning says:

    A huge irony is that Telcos such as Bell RogerShaw and Telus could deploy existing techniques to block junk text messages, “you have won”, “CRA / IRS is about to arrest you” or ring once and hope that you call back to an expensive long distance number frauds, but fail to do so.

    They favour blocking when it increases their profits, but not when it reduces their revenue for calls and text messages.

    Smart phone users may be able to install a blocking app, but those of us with Plain Old Telephone Service do not have that option.

    • Devil's Advocate says:

      “…those of us with Plain Old Telephone Service do not have that option.”

      Actually, the option to filter junk and abuses in the POTS system has been there for years. Bell, of course, just won’t admit it, as it has financial incentives to deny such capabilities, such as…

      1) Bell (who is supposed to be the “operator” of the Do Not Call List) is the biggest proponent of telemarketing (using 3rd parties) in the country.

      2) There’s money to be made from these optional “services”, such as “Call Block”, which would come to mind here. Though there is the capability to completely stop abusers from being able to use the system, they’d rather keep you paying for a Call Block on every suspect number. (The block, of course, expires after a short time, and doesn’t stop you from getting all the other unwanted calls Bell could’ve stopped, easily and permanently, and for free.)

      Such a thing is easy on POTS, but I’m sure the same options exist for all telephone services. But the Internet is not the same, and that is the telling part – they want to block that which they actually can’t (and SHOULDN’T!), and refuse to block that which they absolutely can (and should).

      • Kelly Manning says:

        Actually, that was my point.

        I am a visual thinker. Text and speech are sometimes like using a foreign language and I often fail to communicate clearly.

        I expect that you are aware that despite operating the Canadian DNC registry for the CRTC Bell was fined $1.3 million for violating it. The marketing call violations included harassment and at least one death threat.

        This isn’t the first time that Telcos have refused to apply technology to aid customers and Law Enforcement Officials.

        Phone Call Metadata is a big topic lately, but it actually goes back to the introduction of Direct Dialling, which was enabled by Paper Tape Automatic Message Accounting tape punches that recorded every lift of a hand set and every spin of a telephone dial.

        I first became aware of that in a 1980s issue of Popular Electronics. If memory serves for decades whenever LEO asked for help in tracing a call related to a kidnapping or harassing phone call or other crime they were given a carefully worded response that implied that no record existed.

        I doubt that Telcos were motivated by concerns about customer privacy. They were probably concerned about the operational cost of spinning through the paper tape for complying with lawful access requests.

        The story said that Telcos got upset about an author who they felt was revealing too many details of their technology, so they suggested to the FBI that he was help blue box makers.

        When the FBI showed up at his door step and started asking questions he decided to do a full dump of everything he knew and the technical documentation he possessed. After that the Telcos had a lot of explaining to do and LEO began to use metadata to investigate betting by phone, kidnapping, and organised crime.

        BC Tel applied to the CRTC to be allowed to bill for Local Measured Usage, which implies that they had technology in place to record the details of local calls, not just long distance.

        Despite that technical ability the Prosecutor in the Bennett -Doman Lumber Insider Trading trial only speculated about whether the Bennett brothers made a local call to their broker after getting a Long Distance call from Herb Doman.

    • June Fudger says:

      Want to hear a funny story? I got a new cell phone number from Bell. It belonged to a woman who had lost her phone for non-payment. The collection agency called my new number and I explained that this was a new number for me and the person who they were looking for no longer had the number. They wouldn’t listen. They were relentless and called numerous times per day. Bell claimed that they could do nothing. Ummm, how about getting in touch with the collection agency and getting them off my butt?

      I had to change my number in the first place because I was being charged for expensive text services like $10/month for a daily horoscope text. Bell forced me to change my number and told me if I didn’t, they would no longer reverse the charges. They were significant. Sometimes they were $40+ dollars per month. I wasn’t even receiving the horoscope texts and the other services such as lucky lottery numbers. This was the only reason why the charges were reversed. Apparently if I had admitted to receiving the texts, there was nothing that Bell could do.

      Oh, and Bell’s solution to the collection agency problem? Change my number AGAIN. They claimed that they could not do anything else.

      They can’t even deal with basic issues like this. How are they going to block web sites properly?

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  4. Tall Whitemail says:

    It’s true, we’ll just go around or find a fresh source. What a no brainer.
    You’d have to shut the entire net down, and by then you’d have more than a few people upset at you for blocking anyways..So give up on it.

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