Even if internet providers went along with Sky TV's legal demands that they block specific sites that provide access to copyright infringing material, it's unlikely work.

Why? Because from a technical point of view, the internet in 2017 is a very different beast to how lawyers envisage the network.

The internet used to be, in very simple terms, a network over which hosts (that is, computers) communicated with each other.

That's the end-to-end principle of the internet, and you could block access to one bad corner of the network fairly easily.


Now though, asking ISPs to block bits of the internet where you think "pirate data" comes from is a fool's errand.

The internet is now massive and the traffic over it is mainly huge video files. This makes it difficult for computers to serve up content fast enough to internet subscribers requesting the material.

To fix this, intermediary networks in front of servers such as caches try to serve up large amounts of content from computers near users, over cheap national links that are faster than pricey overseas cable connections.

Then there are reverse proxies. If you look up where The Pirate Bay (thepiratebay.org) is hosted, you'll see it appears to be in Australia, in Megaport's data centre in Sydney.

Before anyone suggests that the police raid Megaport's data centre, that's not where The Pirate Bay lives.

Instead, The Pirate Bay uses Cloudflare, a global company that puts its high-performance and very resilient network in front customers' servers.

Each time you download a magnet link to torrent files from The Pirate Bay, Cloudflare's network handles it and passes on the request to servers that your computer cannot directly connect to.

This shields The Pirate Bay from hacking, denial of service attacks and being located. It's a fairly simple technique that works so well that our Government Communications Security Bureau spooks use a similar service for their website.


Should Sky TV ask Vocus, 2 Degrees, Spark and Vodafone to block Cloudflare then?
Umm, no. Cloudflare is a bit too big for that, and has important customers on its network.

There's no point in blocking the specific internet address on Cloudflare that leads to The Pirate Bay's servers either. Doing so would block innocent businesses that use the same IP address for ISP customers.

Sky TV's is demanding that internet providers block specific sites that provide access to copyright infringing material. Picture / Sarah Ivey
Sky TV's is demanding that internet providers block specific sites that provide access to copyright infringing material. Picture / Sarah Ivey

Sky TV could try to complain to Cloudflare to have The Pirate Bay and similar sites removed, just like Google is forced to take out from its index search results that lead to copyright infringing material, as dictated by the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), if it hasn't already.

It's hard to imagine that Sky TV doesn't know this already, but on one level, letting slip the legal attack dogs on what appears to be a futile mission makes sense.

See, even with automated copyright infringement reporting systems sending in notifications by the billions to Google, people will still share content that's not theirs on the world's most efficient copying machine, the internet.

A real "nuclear option" is being developed by the European Union to deal with that issue however.


In a nutshell, the EU wants ISPs to filter their customers' connections to block them from uploading and sharing and posting copyright infringing material.

Great idea, isn't it? If people can't share copyrighted material, the infringement problem goes away, doesn't it? Only problem is, nobody knows how to do it technically.

ISPs and sites like YouTube and Facebook would have to install content recognition technology of some sort that would check and analyse users' data, in case it contains copyrighted material.

Billions of people's internet connections would need to be filtered, going through all their data just in case. This would amount to a massive invasion of privacy and as encryption has to be broken temporary for the inspection to work, a huge security risk.

Thing is, that site blocking and filtering are unlikely to work is neither here nor there.

The long-term strategy is to introduce such measures through legal means, which push up costs for ISPs that already struggle with unsustainably low margins per customer.


In that environment, only a few big providers will survive thanks to large customer volumes.

Eventually, it will create a small number of large, walled garden internets where approved content is served from within the network, and access to the outside world is limited.

China's internet already works like that, and Russia wants to put into place domain name system lookup technology for the two countries as well as for India, Brazil and South Africa, to control what websites users can access, from August next year.

We'll see where this ends but 2018 could be the year when the internet as we knew it goes away.