Piracy Shield 2: Just When IPTV Pirates Thought it Was Safe

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Italy’s solution to IPTV piracy is already operating beyond the limits of its design. Piracy Shield launched in February under new law that compels all 300+ of the country’s ISPs to block pirate streaming services. It now transpires that Italy’s blocking system was only designed to accommodate 70 ISPs and now times out under the strain. By end of 2024, Piracy Shield Phase 2 will make its debut.

New law passed in Italy last year gave powerful football rightsholders and broadcasters a blank slate to implement a blocking system seen nowhere else in Europe.

No laborious court processes, no judicial oversight, and unlike the ISPs compelled by law to implement their blocking instructions, no financial penalties for getting things wrong either. Whether these freedoms contributed towards the laundry list of errors, PR blunders, source code leaks, and resentment among some ISPs, is hard to quantify, but there appears to be no turning back.

Piracy Shield Hype

Less than four months since its February launch, it’s now clear that Piracy Shield isn’t the bleeding edge anti-piracy technology previously billed, and it hasn’t achieved the impossible as the public were led to believe. As conscripted partners, ISPs were effectively told to come up with their own software to interact with the system. That was on top of having to shoulder the responsibility of blocking the domains and IP addresses churned out by the system, while having no choice but to cover the costs.

At least one critic with knowledge of the platform commented that a list sent by email would’ve been just as effective, a far cry from public statements suggesting an advanced black-box operation systematically taking pirate networks apart.

When news surfaced last month that football league Serie A had taken legal action against Cloudflare – for allegedly undermining blocking, just weeks after Piracy Shield’s launch – that seems to have been a sign that things weren’t going to plan. A new report published by Calcio Finanza appears to cast doubt on whether the plan, whatever it was, attempted to cover even the most obvious basics.

System Can’t Cope With Its Own Workload

The report centers on comments made by the head of telecoms regulator AGCOM at the Serie A Festival last weekend. During the panel “The metaverse of piracy” Massimiliano Capitanio reportedly spoke about Piracy Shield and Italy’s system that requires ISPs to block pirate services within 30 minutes.

In reality, the majority of blocking takes place outside match windows, but it appears that after just four months, the system still can’t cope. Capitanio said that since February this year, the number of ‘strings’ (domains / IP addresses) blocked is now double the number blocked in the previous 10 years.

“From 2014/15 to 2024, 9 thousand strings were disabled, from February this year to May with Piracy Shield almost 18 thousand strings and internet addresses saturating the structures. The system holds from a legal and legislative point of view,” he explained.

Blocking data is supposed to be made available to the public on AGCOM’s portal but thanks to Infotech Srl, which publishes official blocking data unofficially, the stats at the time of writing are displayed below. (Note: One blocking request (a ticket) can contain one or many domains/IP addresses. IP addresses blocked are listed as IPv4, fully qualified domains as FQDN)

Yet the main problem doesn’t appear to be the number of domains and IP addresses in the system, it’s the number of ISPs now required to block by law.

Better Late Than Never: Time to Upgrade

As telecoms regulator, AGCOM knows that Italy has over 300 internet service providers, and that the new law requires all of them to block pirate services; that’s exactly what AGCOM and the sports rightsholders demanded when working to push the law through.

The problem is Italy’s underlying blocking system; it was only designed to cope with a quarter of the country’s ISPs and after the law passed last year, nothing was done to prepare for the additional blocking.

“[The blocking] infrastructure was designed to receive 60/70 operators, today it has 300. And the reporting is very heavy, we will see if it can be simplified,” Capitanio said.

“There are two upgrades to be made,” the AGCOM chief continued. “An infrastructural one; this platform which has done its job very well until today suffers the weight of this mass of data. A report will be received on Wednesday 12th which will highlight how the process is going well, but that the amount of reporting is creating timeouts that are not sustainable.

“Phase 2 will be implemented with a new platform by the end of the year, the current one will be expanded,” he added.

Capitanio also touched on the issue of fining users of pirate services; penalties are currently expected to be in the region of 150 to 500 euros.

“Is it annoying to fine the end user? Yes, but hitting platforms isn’t enough. If I put speed cameras in place you understand that there is a limit but, as of today, piracy is not understandable.”

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Andy Maxwell