File sharing law - NZ downloaders simply shift tactics

Donald Clark

The worst case scenario with NZ's new internet file sharing law was that a few chumps would get punished, while hardcore downloaders would simply change their tactics.

But that's what seems to be what's happening.

The first wave of infringement notices were sent under the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act in November last year, following months of publicity about the new "three strikes" law.

My anecdotal experience is that, so far, many casual users have not been scared off by the Act - possibly because of the relatively small number of notices sent so far (a function of the fact that, at least for the first year of the law, ISPs can charge a copyright holder, such as a movie studio or record copy, a $25 fee for each notice sent. Rights-holders say that's too much).

I was at a BBQ recently, where I was in a minority - being the only person who actually paid for his movie loads (well, at least to the degree I only break Apple's iTunes terms and conditions, rather than the law, with my iTunes US subscription, which allows me to buy more movies and TV shows than are available on iTunes NZ).

I'm constantly shocked that so many otherwise upstanding, law-abiding middle class citizens illegally download movie and TV content - still citing the moral argument that it's okay to do so since so little street-legal online content is available to New Zealanders.

One person I spoke to said, "I'm just waiting for my first letter". He was using RapidShare, and not making any attempt to hide the fact from his ISP (which would have to probe his usage details if it received a notice).

Below, Donald Clark - a former head of the government broadband network company Reannz, and a former advisor to the Prime Minister, summarises University of Waikato research that shows sophisticated internet users have simply switched the way they download material, using software and services that cover their tracks.

"It’s hard to escape the conclusion that people sharing copyrighted material have simply switched mechanisms," Mr Clark concludes.

"I suspect that there has been little net-change in the sharing of copyrighted material."

- Chris Keall

NZ Legislation shifts file-sharing from bittorrent to tunnels

The last week in January was NZNOG’s - the NZ Network Operators' Group - annual meeting. It’s the place where the people who design, build, and operate ISPs, telco and Internet infrastructure get together to argue.

And there was a very interesting presentation from Waikato University’s world-renowned WAND group - they measure and study the way traffic flows on networks (slides and full notes here).

The group has come up with a new way of measuring traffic so that they can tell (with a pretty high degree of accuracy) what *type* of traffic any particular packet is part of without having to fully unwrap the packet and open up the box. Think of it like looking at the postmark, and then giving the parcel a bit of a squeeze!

They call this technique “mildly penetrative packet inspection” (as opposed to “deep packet inspection”). It’s key features are:

  • Requires only 4 bytes of application payload instead of full DPI
  • Examines first payload-bearing packet in each direction only
  • Classifications based on payload signatures, size and ports
  • This all results in a much “lighter” measurement burden, whilst still achieving 95% accuracy (or 70%-80% when port 80 flows are excluded). This places it well above other packet-inspection-lite approaches.

Measured impact of legislation
Crucially, the WAND team managed to take some measurements in January 2011, and then again in September 2011 and January 2012 - ie the measures straddle the dates when the new File Sharing law came into force in NZ!

Does the data show a change in online behaviour? Oh yes. 

(Click to enlarge.)

We can see that while overall traffic has remained fairly constant, so can conclude that end-user activity hasn’t altered significantly.

We also see that, immediately following the law coming info force on 1 September 2011, there was a 75% reduction in measured peer-to-peer traffic, and this was sustained into January this year. Newsgroup traffic (a large source of file sharing) has dropped to almost zero!

However, there was a more than doubling in secure tunneling and remote-access protocol traffic volumes.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that people sharing copyrighted material have simply switched mechanisms - from bittorrent to technologies like VPN, SSH or the use of file downloading services (yes, like MegaUpload) and seedboxes in other jurisdictions.

I suspect that there has been little net-change in the sharing of copyrighted material and that the answer remains business models that make it available easily and at reasonable price - that’s why Netflix (online movie service) accounts for 1/3 of total internet traffic in the US!

The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. Legislation will never be able to keep up with technical innovation. 

Donald Clark is a former head of the government broadband network company Reannz, and advisor to the Prime Minister's office, turned independent consultant. He blogs at

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8 Comments & Questions

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Good article, hope you're enjoying your US Itunes account (I know I am!)

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Great article! Though is it possible that when looking at the absolute terms, the small increase in streaming is actually responsible for the bulk of the decrease in bittorrent and newsgroup? Perhaps WAND have the raw data somewhere, but my google-fu is not good enough to find them.

It is obvious that some people have shifted from newsgroup/bittorrent to remote/vpn however it is a stretch to say that "ALL" the bittorrent and newsgroup traffic have been directly converted to remote and vpn.

I guess what I am saying is, IF my assumption's correct that the increase in streaming fills the bulk of the now non-existent p2p sharing, then perhaps the net-savvy is not that numerous and thus the demand for netflix/hulu like services do have a chance here.

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Spot on to call out the weakness in comparing relative increases. I didn't have the underlying quantities. However, even then it would be hard to an apple for apples as torrenting has a different traffic use profile per shared file cf, eg, streaming.

I think Chris' intro points remain valid though - given the additional cost and/or risk people pay to stream, seedbox, vpn, vps etc there MUST be a market in NZ for well priced video services. Witness the success of BBC iPlayer Intl-edition in Australia, Hulu Plus etc in USA.

[And here I mean a genuine competitor - not just the "keep the regulator off our back" move from Sky with TVNZ]

The recent announcements by the BBC of a move to allow indefinite access to material for a low cost indicates a further move to shift away from broken 20th century video distribution business models.

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As people said above, the total "illegal" traffic was down, but encrypted traffic to seedboxes/VPNs went up, but not the same amount that BT went down. I think this was mentioned in the NZNOG presentation avaliable at under "WAND updates". I suggest watching all of that. :) (Maybe link to it as well)

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Good article.

File sharing legislators and patent trolls are the book burners of the 21st century.

Can you please post links to the different services which allow users to get around the legislation.

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Surely we need to know something about base rate traffic to be able to draw any conclusions. If hardly anybody was tunnelling ex ante, then a big percentage increase doesn't cash out as much in the real world relative to a big percentage drop in Torrent.

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Seedboxes? Nothing new here and at cost less than $20 a month.

People used them to get around telecoms go large filtering but the p2p law just accelerated it.

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Quote of the day:

"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

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