The boy who cried wolf? False positives blocked by Italy’s Piracy Shield

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Piracy Shield, the piracy detection and case ticketing system recently implemented and activated by Italy’s communications authority AGCOM, is intended as a centralized platform available to media stakeholders to report instances of piracy so that Internet Service Providers can block access to domains that enable copyright violation.  ISPs are required by law to respond to blocking requests within 30 minutes.

However, reports emerged during February that Piracy Shield is still a work in progress.  One example was the blocking of an IP address belonging to Cloudflare, which blocked traffic to a telecom company and to a volunteer group.

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“Too burdensome” to serve

More troubling is the announcement by the ISP AirVPN, which has exited the Italian ISP sector because it found the AGCOM requirements to be “too burdensome…both economically and technically.”  Noting that Piracy Shield has no judicial review or review by AGCOM, “(it) pave(s) the way for widespread blockages in all areas of human activity and possible interference with fundamental rights (whether accidental or deliberate).”

Need for better oversight

Assoprovider, the Italian Association of Independent Internet Providers, representing the interests of smaller and medium-sized Internet operators; made a request for the IP address-blocking that was sent to AGCOM, as well as proof that infringement occurred on February 15 and 24, the dates that they were reported.

Assoprovider’s president, Gianbattista Frontera, explained: “The request for access to documents sent to AGCOM represents a crucial step in our fight for transparency and fairness in the regulation of online piracy. It is crucial for us, and for the industry we represent, to fully understand the manner and circumstances under which access inhibition measures are taken, especially in cases where it appears that IP addresses and domain names not involved in piracy activities have been unfairly affected.”

Further reading

Piracy Shield, Assoprovider asks Agcom to publish proceedings. Press release. February 27, 2024. Assoprovider

Termination of service in Italy.  Blog post, News and Announcements. February 5, 2024. AirVPN

Why it matters

It would be unfortunate for Piracy Shield to go the way of Aesop’s Fable about the Boy who cried Wolf – where, after multiple ‘false positives,’ people stopped paying attention to his warnings.  If early errors produced by Piracy Shield are not addressed before the real Wolf arrives, will people take its warnings seriously?

Piracy and the fight against it are serious matters, and a record of false-positives damages can create a a false impression among the general public.  People are wary of the heavy hand of government, and suspicious of some motives of the media industry.  In these times, people who want to “stick it to the Man” are celebrated as folk heroes.

Technological countermeasures against piracy that rely upon the technologies of the Internet are not foolproof.  In this case, the transport of legal content, legally obtained, may traverse networks that have been suspect of enabling infringement in the past.  But the Internet is designed to deliver content using the “best effort.

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