Security specialist McAfee, best known for its range of anti-virus software, is branching out into the anti-piracy game, according to a patent filed by the company back in October last year and published late last week.

Spottedy by file sharing news site TorrentFreak, the patent - WO2013055564A1 - describes a system to 'detect and prevent illegal consumption of content on the internet.' To put it another way: it's a blacklisting system that aims to prevent users from downloading hooky software, music and films from file sharing sites.

The system, McAfee's Davoud Maha explains in the patent, aims at 'preventing (or at least deterring) a user from inadvertently or directly consuming illegal content on the internet.' Acting as an extension of the company's existing SiteAdvisor system, which warns users if they're visiting a site that hosts malicious software or has been reported as a 'phishing' site, the system can take several steps if it detects apparently-unauthorised content: it can simply warn the user; it can block access to the site entirely; or - and it's here that the system's target audience becomes somewhat clearer - it can block the site while redirecting the user to an alternative source, such as a pay-to-download service hosting an authorised copy of the works.

According to McAfee, the system holds benefits to consumers as well as rightsholders - in particular by preventing 'accidental' download of unauthorised content that could result in expensive litigation should the rightsholder decide to pursue the user for infringement. If the system is simply added to McAfee's existing consumer-oriented security software and made optional, that's perhaps good news for the less confident downloader who perhaps may not know that The Pirate Bay isn't exactly a legitimate source of new-release films and music.

The risk McAfee runs, however, is in giving those who know full well that they're downloading unauthorised copies of copyright material a further excuse for their actions: 'McAfee SiteAdvisor didn't tell me it was unauthorised, so I thought it was OK.' While tenuous at best, firms that chase downloaders for payment are typically loath to take them to court over the matter - regardless of their threats to the contrary - in case their 'evidence,' usually limited to a spreadsheet of IP addresses, is found wanting. Offering yet another excuse - alongside 'I run an open Wi-Fi connection, so anyone could have downloaded it' - may mean any such court case struggles even more than would have been the case.

One thing is clear, however: where McAfee leads, others are likely to follow. Expect the security software of tomorrow to come with the same kind of 'protection' against copyright infringement as it offers for malware.

Thus far, McAfee hasn't indicated when - or even if - it plans to add the anti-piracy system to its software packages.

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