Legit Pirate Bay spin-off blocked by UK ISPs

@ 2012/12/04
A legitimate operation of notorious torrent portal The Pirate Bay, The Promo Bay, is being blocked by ISPs in the United Kingdom because of the high court order that saw a blanket ban on the website earlier this year.

Although another URL is available for access, the outright censorship of a domain is going someway to highlight how the net could be considered too wide, and how a policy of forcing websites content lobbyists do not like to go dark is essentially flawed.

As TorrentFreak reports, The Promo Bay has never linked to infringing material, and is not hosted on The Pirate Bay's servers either. Banned by BT, Virgin Media, BE, and possiby others, TorrentFreak suggests the domain was found on the same black list that has been used to cut away The Pirate Bay from the web.

The website allows users to search through torrents of artists the Pirate Bay is promoting, with its permission. It can also be accessed at ThePromoBay.co.uk, but then again, because of the slow moving nature of the courts, as soon as The Pirate Bay was blocked, public proxies cropped up that made the content fully accessible again.

The result is The Pirate Bay is still open for business, although British users are unable to access it through its original domain. Blocked with it is a legitimate operation that users are also forced to sidestep around to reach its perfectly legal content.

Many of the ISPs were not happy with the courts ordering censorship in the first place, and although they will not be quick to be outspoken, it would be surprising if they didn't accept the topsy-turvy nature of the situation. Unlike content industry lobbyists and reactionary legislature that follows, organisations that rely on intimate knowledge of the working web also understand that lowering the boot on one offending website merely fragments the users: they will go elsewhere or - in under a minute of using a search engine - can figure out a way past the ban through VPNs or other options. It is not difficult.

ThinkBroadband.com's editor, Andrew Ferguson, told TechEye that, if not a mistake, the block could be because the Promo Bay appears to be more of a promotional tool for the Pirate Bay, rather than the artists themselves. Again, it's probable that it was snagged on a list of domains the ISPs are told to ban access to.

"The whole area of web blocking, be it in response to court orders, or parental controls, is an area where it is impossible to be 100 percent accurate," Ferguson told us. "If the ISPs are reacting to informal requests to block extra domains that is very worrying, as the chances of this being abused is very real. Conversely, there is a possibility that other interests, that do not support reasonable blocking solutions, may be using knowledge about what will probably be blocked to push their own agenda".

"As always," Ferguson said, "the way to reduce the effect of file sharing is for rights holders, which is often not the artist, to ensure material is available at a reasonable price and in formats that people want to use".

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, told TechEye that blocking websites is a "crude and ineffective tool", and that this example highlights the risks to freedom of speech online.

"Those calling for more blocking and filtering should be aware that legal businesses and individuals are highly likely to be caught in the collateral damage of such policies," Pickles said.

"It also highlights how ineffective most ISPs are at dealing with over-blocking, and I expect sooner rather than later we will see a court case seeking damages for unwarranted blocking," he said.

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