Is a Proxy Cache – Copyright Violation?

Many proxies operate either exclusively or as part of an internet access infrastructure in caching mode. The idea is that instead of users in a network each individually accessing and downloading a popular internet page or site, the proxy server downloads and caches the pages. This has the huge advantage that a huge amount of bandwidth is not used up downloading the same content over and over again.

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For anyone who has seen the difference on a network when even a few popular sites are cached then it makes perfect sense to operate in this way. As content becomes more and more media dense with embedded images and videos this is likely to continue. However as always operating a proxy which caches information can come with other issues too.

One of the hot topics online at the moment is that of copyright and protecting the holder’s rights. Companies like Netflix pay for the rights of much of it’s content to be streamed in different areas. They are duty bound to protect those rights and go to great lengths to ensure compliance. Just recently Netflix for example has blocked access to it’s servers from any commercial IP address in an attempt to block the use of VPNs to circumvent their region locking.

That’s correct, you are now no longer able to access Netflix from any commercial address, so discrete streaming from work has probably ended for most too! It is still possible to use a VPN but it must be equipped with a network of residential ips for Netflix in order to work properly.

This brings up the other problem, if you cache someone else’s property on your proxy – are you inadvertently violating their copyright at the same time. After all that picture, song or movie cached on your server could effectively be distributed anywhere without permission of the owner.

It’s a grey area, and one that I don’t think has yet been tested in the courts. Can you violate copyright simply by storing the content in your proxy cache. There is no reliable way yet with HTTP/1.0 to tag content as ‘non-cached’ and it would take a lot of effort for copyright holders to inform proxy owners not too cache their content.

It’s also not really possible with current technology to be able to report back to the origin server that content has been cached although this could be possible. There are some ‘cache busting’ techniques which can be used to stop or at least deter proxies from caching specific content. The issue will probably need some important legal mandate or case somewhere before this technology develops properly however it is the author’s opinion that the question is ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ this ever happens.

Further Reading

John Collins, The Netflix Proxy Warning, Haber Press, 2015

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