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VPN, DNS, Give Up, or Go Legal: Aussies’ Reactions to Pirate Site-Blocking in 2023

RipperAs reported yesterday, the Australian government has just released the 2023 edition of its Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement.

The survey found that 41% of respondents consumed at least one item of pirated content (TV, movies, music, games, or live sports) from an illegal source in 2023, up from the 39% reported in the previous year.

When compared to how many citizens resorted to pirate sources in 2015, the figures for 2023 show improvement almost right across the board. That’s to be expected when considering how desperate many Australians were for new content until Netflix finally launched in March 2015.

Australians’ Use of VPNs

Such were the content-related frustrations before Netflix’s official launch, many citizens had already become familiar with VPNs and custom DNS settings because that allowed them to subscribe to the platform in other regions.

Today, those same tools work in exactly the same way and according to the government’s latest survey, almost a quarter (23%) of VPN users say that accessing geo-blocked content is the main motivator. One-in-ten users said their VPN use is motivated by the ability to “access content for a reasonable price” which sounds like a similar geo-blocking problem finding a solution.

Yet, the main reasons cited by around half of the VPN-user respondents was to “secure my communications and internet browsing details” (52%) and “for the privacy of my communications and internet browsing details” (45%).

Around a third (32%) said their main reason for using a VPN was due to working remotely, another entirely legitimate use completing the three main reasons cited by the respondents.

Given the unblocking capabilities of VPNs, including the circumvention of ISP pirate site blocking injunctions handed down by the Federal Court, the 21% who use VPNs to “access free content” seems quite low. As a reminder, this represents 21% of VPN users, not 21% of respondents or internet users as a whole.

aus_cons_surv_online_infrg_2023-7

That being said, awareness of VPNs is on the rise. In last year’s survey, 63% of all respondents said they were aware of what VPNs are, a figure up just 1% on the previous year but up 13% when compared to 2020.

In total, 26% of respondents said they had used a VPN, an increase of 1% and 3% over the figures reported in 2022 and 2020 respectively. That suggests knowledge of VPNs is growing at a faster rate than those who are also prepared to give them a try.

Australians’ Use of Custom DNS

Changing DNS settings in a device such as a PC or smartphone, or preferably within a router/modem, is not just relatively straightforward. In many cases changing to a DNS provider other than those pre-configured in devices supplied by an ISP is an easy way to improve privacy, reduce exposure to malware, boost internet performance, and mitigate site-blocking measures.

Mainstream familiarity with custom DNS settings in Australia was given a huge boost when people realized they could access Netflix and similar services when none were available locally.Yet when compared to VPNs, knowledge of custom DNS settings is much more limited.

According to the latest government survey, knowledge of VPNs in 2023 reached 63% of respondents compared to just 25% for custom DNS. Knowledge of custom DNS providers isn’t growing much either; today’s 25% rate is up just 2% from 2022 and 2021, where the rate was static year-on-year.

The top reason cited by users for using custom DNS in 2023 was taking more control of what content is accessed via their own connections.

aus_cons_surv_online_infrg_2023-8

In common with VPNs, “to access content for a reasonable price” and “to access content from other countries” both appear to be geo-blocking or similar geo-restrictions finding a solution. “To access free content (e.g. music, films, TV series, e-books, etc.)” is a direct reference to evading site-blocking measures.

What Aussies Do When Faced With Site-Blocking Measures

Since site-blocking in Australia mainly takes place within DNS servers provided by ISPs, if users don’t use those DNS servers, they can’t be redirected to a blocking notice. This means that those who use VPNs or custom DNS settings never see a ‘site-blocked’ notice and may have even forgotten that 2,000 pirate site domains should be off-limits.

But for those with vanilla setups who find themselves confronted with site-blocking measures, what do they do in response?

According to the latest survey, most people who encounter a blocked site – almost six-in-ten (58%) – simply give up trying to access whatever it was they hoped to obtain. It’s a figure largely unchanged from that reported in 2021.

While fifteen in every hundred users sought alternative lawful access, when faced with a blocked site, ten in every hundred sought out ways to bypass the blocking measures to gain access to the site. Just 8% went on to try alternative means to gain the content without paying for it, with 3% choosing to pay for the content, albeit via an illegal provider.

Overall, 20% of respondents said they had encountered a blocked website in the three months before the survey, that’s up 3% on the figure reported the previous year and 8% up on 2020.

One Last Thing

Finally, some data that isn’t part of the survey but i) may provide insight into the efficacy of Australia’s site-blocking measures and ii) how any shortcomings would be much less of an issue if content was made available in a timely fashion.

On March 8, 2024, Kung Fu Panda 4 was released in the United States. Yet for reasons that still make little sense, the Australian release date wasn’t until March 28, almost three weeks later.

The image below represents just a sample of the 6,486 Australian IP addresses observed by us (as part of separate monitoring) over a 48-hour period in the days just after release in the United States. Site-blocking may be one solution to piracy but more obvious solutions that might actually work are still being overlooked.

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From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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