France: Anti-piracy regulation works but piracy access has migrated to social, VPNs, alternate DNS

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The French regulator ARCOM has played an important role in measures to block illegal services.  But piracy continues to evolve: live streaming and the distribution of links via social media have taken the place of distribution via downloading and peer-to-peer networks.

While consumers say that they use VPNs and alternative DNS services to protect themselves and their personal data, those services also bear significant illicit traffic.  Piracy users often resort to modification of DNS parameters, and use virtual private networks (VPNs) for illicit purposes.

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According to ARCOM, 35% of French people use a VPN or alternative DNS service  Within the last year, 20% changed their DNS settings, and new VPN users are more motivated by the ability to bypass site blocking.

In addition, turnkey piracy services are readily available to produce packages of paid services (IPTV boxes and applications in particular).  All of this argues for ongoing collaboration among stakeholders, regulators, law enforcement and the court system.

Regulations put into place

Beginning in January, 2022, a law introduced into the legal code created a system that enables sporting rights-holders (sports federations and organizers of sporting events , professional sports leagues, broadcasters, etc.) to prevent access from within French territory, to services illicitly broadcasting sports competitions or events.

Also, beginning in December 2023, blocking requests that involved Internet service providers (ISPs), benefitted from two judicial decisions that complement blocking orders by mandating that search engines dereference those sites.

Tangible results

From October 2022 through December 2023, ARCOM was involved in 110 blocking requests from rights holders in the audiovisual and cinema sectors, graphic and 3D arts and scientific publishing, which resulted in the blocking of 594 domain names.

By May 2023, 38% of Internet users with illicit audiovisual uses were confronted with to site blocking during the last six months. Among them, 46% had abandoned their searches and 7% turned to the legal offer.

Through collaboration between ARCOM, rights holders and the French judicial system, illicit audiences shrank by 27% from 2021 to 2023 – to just 16% of the online population in France or 8.5 million consumers; according to ARCOM.

Evolution of the number of Internet users, legal and illegal consumers and penetration rate, since 2018 (base: millions of Internet users aged 2 and over). Source: ARCOM

From January 1, 2023 through December 31, 2023, the system enabled four sports rights holders (two publishers of audiovisual programs and two sports leagues) to protect eleven sporting competitions or events.

According to ARCOM, this resulted in an increase in the number of blocking requests (from 950 in 2022 to 2,167 in 2023, an increase of 128%), and led to the doubling of the number of blocking requests addressed to ISPs (from 772 in 2022 to 1,544 in 2023). These blocking measures affected illegal live streaming sites as well as about a hundred IPTV services.

Recommendations by ARCOM

ARCOM will continue to participate in efforts by the European Commission and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), toward collaboration and information exchange between stake holders and to help shape anti-piracy regulation.

Recommendations include:

  • Encourage stakeholders to voluntarily engage in the fight against piracy, through agreements with rights holders.
  • Encourage advertisers and payment processors to a “Follow the money” approach, to help dry up resources for illicit services.
  • Collaborate with VPN and DNS players to strengthen blocking measures by consumers who circumvent legal measures by changing DNS settings and using VPNs; complementing existing blocking measures that involve ISPs.

In addition, the European Regulation on Digital Services allows the establishment of trusted flaggers specialized in this issue of defense of intellectual property and a preventive and proactive approach by very large platforms and search engines.

Further reading

Protection de la création et des contenus sportifs : les effets d’une action renforcée (Protection of Creative and Sports Content: The Effects of Reinforced Action). Report (PDF). April 2024. L’essential (The Essential). ARCOM (France)

USAGE DES OUTILS DE SÉCURISATION D’INTERNET À DES FINS D’ACCÈS ILLICITES AUX BIENS DÉMATÉRIALISÉS. Rapport d’étude qualitative et quantitative – avril 2024 (The Use of Internet Security Tools for Purposes of Illicit Access to Virtualized Goods. Qualitative and quantitative study, report).  Report (PDF).  April 2024. ARCOM.

LUTTE CONTRE LE PIRATAGE DE CONTENUS SPORTIFS ET CULTURELS. BILAN 2023, Avril 2024 (Fight against piracy of sports and cultural cotent. 2023 Review). April 2024. Report (PDF). April 2024. Arcom

Why it matters

Arcom actively participates in the work carried out by the European Commission and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) within the framework of the recommendation of May 4, 2023. The Authority was able to present from February 2023 the results obtained within the framework of these provisions by responding to the call for contributions from the European Commission.

The Authority also actively participates in the specialized network of administrative authorities established by this recommendation and led by the EUIPO Observatory in order to regularly exchange information on the measures applied, difficulties and good practices.

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