After more than a decade and a half in existence, public pirate sites, services, and apps remain a thorn in the side of entertainment industry groups who are determined to close them down.
That trend continued last week when French anti-piracy group ALPA teamed up with police in the Bordeaux region to raid and arrest the founder and administrator of piracy service ARTV.
According to the anti-piracy group, the ARTV.watch website first appeared during April 2017 but quickly grew to become a significant source of streaming TV piracy. Every month the site had around 150,000 visitors and in less than eight months amassed 800,000 registered users.
“Artv.watch was a public site offering live access to 176 free and paid French TV channels that are members of ALPA: Canal + Group, M6 Group, TF1 Group, France Télévision Group, Paramount, Disney, and FOX. Other thematic and sports channels were broadcast,” an ALPA statement reads.
This significant offering was reportedly lucrative for the site’s operator. While probably best taken with a grain of salt, ALPA estimates the site generated around 3,000 euros per month from advertising revenue. That’s a decent amount for anyone but even more so when one learns that ARTV’s former operator is just 16 years old.
“ARTV.WATCH it’s over. ARTV is now closed for legal reasons. Thank you for your understanding! The site was indeed illegal,” a notice on the site now reads.
“Thank you all for this experience that I have acquired in this project. And thanks to you who have believed in me.”
Closure formalities aside, ARTV’s founder also has a message for anyone else considering launching a similar platform.
“Notice to anyone wanting to do a site of the same kind, I strongly advise against it. On the criminal side, the punishment can go up to three years of imprisonment and a 300,000 euro fine. If [individual] complaints of channels (or productions) are filed against you, it will be more complicated to determine,” ARTV’s owner warns.
ALPA says that in addition to closing down the site, ARTV’s owner also deactivated the site’s Android app, which had been available for download on Google Play. The anti-piracy group adds that this action against IPTV and live streaming was a first in France.
For anyone who speaks French, the 16-year-old has published a video on YouTube talking about his predicament.
In early 2014, Popcorn Time turned the consumer end of the piracy world upside down. Utilizing a BitTorrent backend and a beautiful interface, Popcorn Time certainly lived up to its promise of being the Netflix for Pirates. Adopted by millions of users, it soon became a household name.
In the months and years to come, Popcorn Time grabbed hundreds of headlines. However, aside from the app’s success, much of what followed was negative in tone as the entertainment industries struggled to contain this new kid on the block.
Since then, of course, Kodi and its numerous illicit third-party addons have become massive news, stepping over Popcorn Time to become the most talked about and consumer-friendly of piracy tools. In the background, however, other applications have been making steady and indeed somewhat stealthy progress.
One of these applications is Terrarium TV. Built exclusively for the Android platform and equally at home on a phone, tablet, streaming stick or set-top box, this software has gained a cult but significant following. For those out of the loop, it will be the most important piracy app they’ve never heard of, despite its Facebook page alone attracting close to 200,000 members.
In many respects, Terrarium TV resembles Popcorn Time. It has a beautiful Netflix-style interface, pulling movie and TV show artwork and metadata from several sources to make what some consider to be the best all-in-one streaming app for Android, period. While Kodi is no doubt powerful and Popcorn Time has one hell of a reputation, Terrarium TV makes viewing simplicity itself. And it really does cater to everyone.
Terrarium TV – A category for everyone
If people are worried about Popcorn Time due to its BitTorrent-based streaming, Terrarium TV has that covered. Every single stream offered by the app is conjured up from public sources such as file-hosting sites and even GoogleVideo. On the whole, streaming is of an extremely high-quality with dozens of sources offered for most content, whether that’s the latest Hollywood movies, blockbuster TV shows, or decades-old rarities.
The quality is impressive too. While 4K rips are best left to the BitTorrent crowd with bandwidth to spare, Terrarium TV manages to conjure up a bewildering range of content in an impressive array of qualities. HD is commonplace and barely a search goes by without a corresponding source alongside. And with multi-language subtitle and Chromecast support, the icing is placed on top of what is an extremely competent cake.
But despite all the accolades, Terrarium TV has an uncertain future.
Over a week ago TerrariumTV.com – the site from where the application has been seamlessly delivered for some time – suddenly disappeared without trace. There was no announcement on Facebook, no announcement on Twitter. Even the moderators on the fairly active Terrarium TV subreddit seemed to have few ideas as to what was going on.
Theories are numerous but most center around the developer, who’s resident in Asia, going on some kind of hiatus. Why that would require the Terrarium TV website to be taken down isn’t clear. Neither does it explain why the Terrarium TV site Github repo was taken down too.
But alongside the ‘break’ theory is one that legal trouble, either actual or simply the fear of it, is what’s underlying the apparent limbo in which the app now sits. That was confirmed this week by the developer, who told one of the app’s subreddit moderators that he’d be lying low, at least for a while.
“I’ve decided to shut down the official website and maybe soon will also shut down the Github repository hosting the apk files in order to avoid any potential legal issues,” he said.
“There has been no cease and desist letters, no lawyers at the door, no seizing of the website. Ad free is not involved. It has been purely a precautionary measure. I want to take a break for a while (maybe a few weeks) first.”
After a short exchange in the summer, Terrarium TV’s developer didn’t return our recent requests for comment but if he had, we’d have certainly asked him about the future development of the app, framed around the Popcorn Time situation.
Despite many legal attacks, the open source nature of Popcorn Time allowed the project to ‘fork’ in several different directions, with various teams continuing development. Terrarium TV, on the other hand, is closed source meaning that when it’s gone, it’s possibly gone for good.
At the moment it’s still available for download from sources listed in the sidebar of its dedicated subreddit but whether the dev will decide to revisit the project again is unclear at this point. If he does not, it seems likely that the system will degrade over time although at the moment it carries out its tasks automatically, which is impressive in itself.
In the meantime, its hundreds of thousands of users will just have to cross everything – and wait.
While many people might believe CrimeStoppers to be an official extension of the police in the UK, the truth is a little more subtle.
CrimeStoppers is a charity that operates a service through which members of the public can report crime anonymously, either using a dedicated phone line or via a website. Callers are not required to give their name, meaning that for those concerned about reprisals or becoming involved in a case for other sensitive reasons, it’s the perfect buffer between them and the authorities.
The people at CrimeStoppers deal with all kinds of crime but perhaps a little surprisingly, they’ve just got involved in the set-top box controversy in the UK.
“Advances in technology have allowed us to enjoy on-screen entertainment in more ways than ever before, with ever increasing amounts of exciting and original content,” the CrimeStoppers campaign begins.
“However, some people are avoiding paying for this content by using modified streaming hardware devices, like a set-top box or stick, in conjunction with software such as illegal apps or add-ons, or illegal mobile apps which allow them to watch new movie releases, TV that hasn’t yet aired, and subscription sports channels for free.”
The campaign has been launched in partnership with the Intellectual Property Office and unnamed “industry partners”. Who these companies are isn’t revealed but given the standard messages being portrayed by the likes of ACE, Premier League and Federation Against Copyright Theft lately, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some or all of them were involved.
Those messages are revealed in a series of four video ads, each taking a different approach towards discouraging the public from using devices loaded with pirate software.
The first video clearly targets the consumer, dispelling the myth that watching pirate video isn’t against the law. It is, that’s not in any doubt, but from the constant tone of the video, one could be forgiven that it’s an extremely serious crime rather than something which is likely to be a civil matter, if anything at all.
It also warns people who are configuring and selling pirate devices that they are breaking the law. Again, this is absolutely true but this activity is clearly several magnitudes more serious than simply viewing. The video blurs the boundaries for what appears to be dramatic effect, however.
Selling and watching is illegal
The second video is all about demonizing the people and groups who may offer set-top boxes to the public.
Instead of portraying the hundreds of “cottage industry” suppliers behind many set-top box sales in the UK, the CrimeStoppers video paints a picture of dark organized crime being the main driver. By buying from these people, the charity warns, criminals are being welcomed in.
“It is illegal. You could also be helping to fund organized crime and bringing it into your community,” the video warns.
Are you funding organized crime?
The third video takes another approach, warning that set-top boxes have few if any parental controls. This could lead to children being exposed to inappropriate content, the charity warns.
“What are your children watching. Does it worry you?” the video asks.
Of course, the same can be said about the Internet, period. Web browsers don’t filter what content children have access to unless parents take pro-active steps to configure special services or software for the purpose.
There’s always the option to supervise children, of course, but Netflix is probably a safer option for those with a preference to stand off. It’s also considerably more expensive, a fact that won’t have escaped users of these devices.
Got kids? Take care….
Finally, video four picks up a theme that’s becoming increasingly common in anti-piracy campaigns – malware and identity theft.
“Why risk having your identity stolen or your bank account or home network hacked. If you access entertainment or sports using dodgy streaming devices or apps, or illegal addons for Kodi, you are increasing the risks,” the ad warns.
Perhaps of most interest is that this entire campaign, which almost certainly has Big Media behind the scenes in advisory and financial capacities, barely mentions the entertainment industries at all.
Indeed, the success of the whole campaign hinges on people worrying about the supposed ill effects of illicit streaming on them personally and then feeling persuaded to inform on suppliers and others involved in the chain.
“Know of someone supplying or promoting these dodgy devices or software? It is illegal. Call us now and help stop crime in your community,” the videos warn.
That CrimeStoppers has taken on this campaign at all is a bit of a head-scratcher, given the bigger crime picture. Struggling with severe budget cuts, police in the UK are already de-prioritizing a number of crimes, leading to something called “screening out”, a process through which victims are given a crime number but no investigation is carried out.
This means that in 2016, 45% of all reported crimes in Greater Manchester weren’t investigated and a staggering 57% of all recorded domestic burglaries weren’t followed up by the police. But it gets worse.
“More than 62pc of criminal damage and arson offenses were not investigated, along with one in three reported shoplifting incidents,” MEN reports.
Given this backdrop, how will police suddenly find the resources to follow up lots of leads from the public and then subsequently prosecute people who sell pirate boxes? Even if they do, will that be at the expense of yet more “screening out” of other public-focused offenses?
No one is saying that selling pirate devices isn’t a crime or at least worthy of being followed up, but is this niche likely to be important to the public when they’re being told that nothing will be done when their homes are emptied by intruders? “NO” says a comment on one of the CrimeStoppers videos on YouTube.
“This crime affects multi-million dollar corporations, I’d rather see tax payers money invested on videos raising awareness of crimes committed against the people rather than the 0.001%,” it concludes.
For many years, Dutch Internet users were allowed to download copyrighted content without reprisals, provided it was for their own personal use.
In 2014, however, the European Court of Justice ruled that the country’s “piracy levy” to compensate rightsholders was unlawful. Almost immediately, the government announced a downloading ban.
In March 2016, anti-piracy outfit BREIN followed up by obtaining permission from the Dutch Data Protection Authority to track and store the personal data of alleged BitTorrent pirates. This year, movie distributor Dutch FilmWorks (DFW) made a similar application.
The company said that it would be pursuing alleged pirates to deter future infringement but many suspected that securing cash settlements was its main aim. That was confirmed in August.
“[The letter to alleged pirates] will propose a fee. If someone does not agree [to pay], the organization can start a lawsuit,” said DFW CEO Willem Pruijsserts
“In Germany, this costs between €800 and €1,000, although we find this a bit excessive. But of course it has to be a deterrent, so it will be more than a tenner or two,” he added.
But despite the grand plans, nothing would be possible without first obtaining the necessary permission from the Data Protection Authority. This Wednesday, however, that arrived.
“DFW has given sufficient guarantees for the proper and careful processing of personal data. This means that DFW has been given a green light from the Data Protection Authority to collect personal data, such as IP addresses, from people downloading from illegal sources,” the Authority announced.
Noting that it received feedback from four entities during the six-week consultation process following the publication of its draft decision during the summer, the Data Protection Authority said that further investigations were duly carried out. All input was considered before handing down the final decision.
The Authority said it was satisfied that personal data would be handled correctly and that the information collected and stored would be encrypted and hashed to ensure integrity. Furthermore, data will not be retained for longer than is necessary.
“DFW has stated…that data from users with Dutch IP addresses who were involved in the exchange of a title owned by DFW, but in respect of which there is no intention to follow up on that within three months after receipt, will be destroyed,” the decision reads.
For any cases that are active and haven’t been discarded in the initial three-month period, DFW will be allowed to hold alleged pirates’ data for a maximum of five years, a period that matches the time a company has to file a claim under the Dutch Civil Code.
“When DFW does follow up on a file, DFW carries out further research into the identity of the users of the IP addresses. For this, it is necessary to contact the Internet service providers of the subscribers who used the IP addresses found in the BitTorrent network,” the Authority notes.
According to the decision, once DFW has a person’s details it can take any of several actions, starting with a simple warning or moving up to an amicable cash settlement. Failing that, it might choose to file a full-on court case in which the distributor seeks an injunction against the alleged pirate plus compensation and costs.
Only time will tell what strategy DFW will deploy against alleged pirates but since these schemes aren’t cheap to run, it’s likely that simple warning letters will be seriously outnumbered by demands for cash settlement.
While it seems unlikely that the Data Protection Authority will change its mind at this late stage, it’s decision remains open to appeal. Interested parties have just under six weeks to make their voices heard. Failing that, copyright trolling will hit the Netherlands in the weeks and months to come.
As movie and TV show piracy has migrated from the desktop towards mobile and living room-based devices, copyright holders have found the need to adapt to a new enemy.
Dealing with streaming services is now high on the agenda, with third-party Kodi addons and various Android apps posing the biggest challenge. Alongside is the much less prevalent but rapidly growing pay IPTV market, in which thousands of premium channels are delivered to homes for a relatively small fee.
In Australia, copyright holders are treating these services in much the same way as torrent sites. They feel that if they can force ISPs to block them, the problem can be mitigated. Most recently, movie and TV show giants Village Roadshow, Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, and Paramount filed an application targeting HDSubs+, a pirate IPTV operation servicing thousands of Australians.
Filed in October, the application for the injunction targets Australia’s largest ISPs including Telstra, Optus, TPG, and Vocus, plus their subsidiaries. The movie and TV show companies want them to quickly block HDSubs+, to prevent it from reaching its audience.
HDSubs+ IPTV package
However, blocking isn’t particularly straightforward. Due to the way IPTV services are setup a number of domains need to be blocked, including their sales platforms, EPG (electronic program guide), software (such as an Android app), updates, and sundry other services. In HDSubs+ case around ten domains need to be restricted but in court today, Village Roadshow revealed that probably won’t deal with the problem.
HDSubs+ appears to be undergoing some kind of transformation, possibly to mitigate efforts to block it in Australia. ComputerWorld reports that it is now directing subscribers to update to a new version that works in a more evasive manner.
If they agree, HDSubs+ customers are being migrated over to a service called PressPlayPlus. It works in the same way as the old system but no longer uses the domain names cited in Village Roadshow’s injunction application. This means that DNS blocks, the usual weapon of choice for local ISPs, will prove futile.
Village Roadshow says that with this in mind it may be forced to seek enhanced IP address blocking, unless it is granted a speedy hearing for its application. This, in turn, may result in the normally cooperative ISPs returning to court to argue their case.
“If that’s what you want to do, then you’ll have to amend the orders and let the parties know,” Judge John Nicholas said.
“It’s only the former [DNS blocking] that carriage service providers have agreed to in the past.”
As things stand, Village Roadshow will return to court on December 15 for a case management hearing but in the meantime, the Federal Court must deal with another IPTV-related blocking request.
In common with its Australian and US-based counterparts, Hong Kong-based broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) has launched a similar case asking local ISPs to block another IPTV service.
“Television Broadcasts Limited can confirm that we have commenced legal action in Australia to protect our copyright,” a TVB spokesperson told Computerworld.
TVB wants ISPs including Telstra, Optus, Vocus, and TPG plus their subsidiaries to block access to seven Android-based services named as A1, BlueTV, EVPAD, FunTV, MoonBox, Unblock, and hTV5.
Court documents list 21 URLs maintaining the services. They will all need to be blocked by DNS or other means, if the former proves futile. Online reports suggest that there are similarities among the IPTV products listed above. A demo for the FunTV IPTV service is shown below.
As part of an emerging crackdown on tools and systems with the ability to bypass China’s ‘Great Firewall’, during the summer Chinese government pressure began to affect Apple.
During the final days of July, Apple was forced to remove many of the most-used VPN applications from its Chinese App Store. In a short email from the company, VPN providers and software developers were told that VPN applications are considered illegal in China.
“We are writing to notify you that your application will be removed from the China App Store because it includes content that is illegal in China, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines,” Apple informed the affected VPNs.
While the position on the ground doesn’t appear to have changed in the interim, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook today expressed optimism that the VPN apps would eventually be restored to their former positions on China’s version of the App Store.
“My hope over time is that some of the things, the couple of things that’s been pulled, come back,” Cook said. “I have great hope on that and great optimism on that.”
According to Reuters, Cook said that he always tries to find ways to work together to settle differences and if he gets criticized for that “so be it.”
Speaking at the Fortune Forum in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, Cook said that he believes strongly in freedoms. But back home in the US, Apple has been strongly criticized for not doing enough to uphold freedom of speech and communication in China.
Back in October, two US senators wrote to Cook asking why the company had removed the VPN apps from the company’s store in China.
“VPNs allow users to access the uncensored Internet in China and other countries that restrict Internet freedom. If these reports are true, we are concerned that Apple may be enabling the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet,” senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy wrote.
“While Apple’s many contributions to the global exchange of information are admirable, removing VPN apps that allow individuals in China to evade the Great Firewall and access the Internet privately does not enable people in China to ‘speak up’.”
They were comments Senator Leahy underlined again yesterday.
“American tech companies have become leading champions of free expression. But that commitment should not end at our borders,” Leahy told CNBC.
“Global leaders in innovation, like Apple, have both an opportunity and a moral obligation to promote free expression and other basic human rights in countries that routinely deny these rights.”
Whether the optimism expressed by Cook today is based on discussions with the Chinese government is unknown. However, it seems unlikely that authorities would be willing to significantly compromise on their dedication to maintaining the Great Firewall, which not only controls access to locally controversial content but also seeks to boost the success of Chinese companies.
Due to a supposed drafting error in Australia’s implementation of the Australia – US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), copyright safe harbor provisions currently only apply to commercial Internet service providers.
This means that while local ISPs such as Telstra receive protection from copyright infringement complaints, services such as Google, Facebook and YouTube face legal uncertainty.
Proposed amendments to the Copyright Act earlier this year would’ve seen enhanced safe harbor protections for such platforms but they were withdrawn at the eleventh hour so that the government could consider “further feedback” from interested parties.
Shortly after the government embarked on a detailed consultation with entertainment industry groups. They accuse platforms like YouTube of exploiting safe harbor provisions in the US and Europe, which forces copyright holders into an expensive battle to have infringing content taken down. They do not want that in Australia and at least for now, they appear to have achieved their aims.
According to a report from AFR (paywall), the Australian government is set to introduce new legislation Wednesday which will expand safe harbors for some organizations but will exclude companies such as Google, Facebook, and similar platforms.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield confirmed the exclusions while noting that additional safeguards will be available to institutions, libraries, and organizations in the disability, archive and culture sectors.
“The measures in the bill will ensure these sectors are protected from legal liability where they can demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to deal with copyright infringement by users of their online platforms,” Senator Fifield told AFR.
“Extending the safe harbor scheme in this way will provide greater certainty to institutions in these sectors and enhance their ability to provide more innovative and creative services for all Australians.”
According to the Senator, the government will continue its work with stakeholders to further reform safe harbor provisions, before applying them to other service providers.
The news that Google, Facebook, and similar platforms are to be denied access to the new safe harbor rules will be seen as a victory for rightsholders. They’re desperately trying to tighten up legislation in other regions where such safeguards are already in place, arguing that platforms utilizing user-generated content for profit should obtain appropriate licensing first.
Earlier this year, major industry players including Disney, HBO, Netflix, Amazon and NBCUniversal formed the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a huge coalition set to tackle piracy on a global scale.
Shortly after the Coalition Against Piracy (CAP) was announced. With a focus on Asia and backed by CASBAA, CAP counts Disney, Fox, HBO Asia, NBCUniversal, Premier League, Turner Asia-Pacific, A&E Networks, BBC Worldwide, National Basketball Association, Viacom International, and others among its members.
In several recent reports, CAP has homed in on the piracy situation in Singapore. Describing the phenomenon as “rampant”, the group says that around 40% of locals engage in the practice, many of them through unlicensed streaming. Now CAP, in line with its anti-streaming stance, wants the government to do more – much more.
Since a large proportion of illicit streaming takes place through set-top devices, CAP’s 21 members want the authorities to block the software inside them that enables piracy, Straits Times reports.
“Within the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is the worst in terms of availability of illicit streaming devices,” said CAP General Manager Neil Gane.
“They have access to hundreds of illicit broadcasts of channels and video-on-demand content.”
There are no precise details on CAP’s demands but it is far from clear how any government could effectively block software.
Blocking access to the software package itself would prove all but impossible, so that would leave blocking the infrastructure the software uses. While that would be relatively straightforward technically, the job would be large and fast-moving, particularly when dozens of apps and addons would need to be targeted.
However, CAP is also calling on the authorities to block pirate streams from entering Singapore. The country already has legislation in place that can be used for site-blocking, so that is not out of the question. It’s notable that the English Premier League is part of the CAP coalition and following legal action taken in the UK earlier this year, now has plenty of experience in blocking streams, particularly of live broadcasts.
While that is a game of cat-and-mouse, TorrentFreak sources that have been monitoring the Premier League’s actions over the past several months report that the soccer outfit has become more effective over time. Its blocks can still be evaded but it can be hard work for those involved. That kind of expertise could prove invaluable to CAP.
“The Premier League is currently engaged in its most comprehensive global anti-piracy programme,” a spokesperson told ST. “This includes supporting our broadcast partners in South-east Asia with their efforts to prevent the sale of illicit streaming devices.”
In common with other countries around the world, the legality of using ‘pirate’ streaming boxes is somewhat unclear in Singapore. A Bloomberg report cites a local salesman who reports sales of 10 to 20 boxes on a typical weekend, rising to 300 a day during electronic fairs. He believes the devices are legal, since they don’t download full copies of programs.
While that point is yet to be argued in court (previously an Intellectual Property Office of Singapore spokesperson said that copyright owners could potentially go after viewers), it seems unlikely that those selling the devices will be allowed to continue completely unhindered. The big question is how current legislation can be successfully applied.
It goes without saying that domain names are a crucial part of any site’s infrastructure. Without domains, sites aren’t easily findable and when things go wrong, the majority of web users could be forgiven for thinking that they no longer exist.
That was the case last week when Canada-based mashup site Sowndhaus suddenly found that its domain had been rendered completely useless. As previously reported, the site’s domain was suspended by UK-based registrar DomainBox after it received a copyright complaint from the IFPI.
There are a number of elements to this story, not least that the site’s operators believe that their project is entirely legal.
“We are a few like-minded folks from the mashup community that were tired of doing the host dance – new sites welcome us with open arms until record industry pressure becomes too much and they mass delete and ban us,” a member of the Sowndhaus team informs TF.
“After every mass deletion there are a wave of producers that just retire and their music is lost forever. We decided to make a more permanent home for ourselves and Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act gave us the opportunity to do it legally.
We just want a small quiet corner of the internet where we can make music without being criminalized. It seems insane that I even have to say that.”
But while these are all valid concerns for the Sowndhaus community, there is a bigger picture here. There is absolutely no question that sites like YouTube and Soundcloud host huge libraries of mashups, yet somehow they hang on to their domains. Why would DomainBox take such drastic action? Is the site a real menace?
“The IFPI have sent a few standard DMCA takedown notices [to Sowndhaus, indirectly], each about a specific track or tracks on our server, asking us to remove them and any infringing activity. Every track complained about has been transformative, either a mashup or a remix and in a couple of cases cover versions,” the team explains.
But in all cases, it appears that IFPI and its agents didn’t take the time to complain to the site first. They instead went for the site’s infrastructure.
“[IFPI] have never contacted us directly, even though we have a ‘report copyright abuse’ feature on our site and a dedicated copyright email address. We’ve only received forwarded emails from our host and domain registrar,” the site says.
Sowndhaus believes that the event that led to the domain suspension was caused by a support ticket raised by the “RiskIQ Incident Response Team”, who appear to have been working on behalf of IFPI.
“We were told by DomainBox…’Please remove the unlawful content from your website, or the domain will be suspended. Please reply within the next 5 working days to ensure the request was actioned’,” Sowndhaus says.
But they weren’t given five days, or even one. DomainBox chose to suspend the Sowndhaus.com domain name immediately, rendering the site inaccessible and without even giving the site a chance to respond.
“They didn’t give us an option to appeal the decision. They just took the IFPI’s word that the files were unlawful and must be removed,” the site informs us.
Intrigued at why DomainBox took the nuclear option, TorrentFreak sent several emails to the company but each time they went unanswered. We also sent emails to Mesh Digital Ltd, DomainBox’s operator, but they were given the same treatment.
We wanted to know on what grounds the registrar suspended the domain but perhaps more importantly, we wanted to know if the company is as aggressive as this with its other customers.
To that end we posed a question: If DomainBox had been entrusted with the domains of YouTube or Soundcloud, would they have acted in the same manner? We can’t put words in their mouth but it seems likely that someone in the company would step in to avoid a PR disaster on that scale.
Of course, both YouTube and Soundcloud comply with the law by taking down content when it infringes someone’s rights. It’s a position held by Sowndhaus too, even though they do not operate in the United States.
“We comply fully with the Copyright Act (Canada) and have our own policy of removing any genuinely infringing content,” the site says, adding that users who infringe are banned from the platform.
While there has never been any suggestion that IFPI or its agents asked for Sowndhaus’ domain to be suspended, it’s clear that DomainBox made a decision to do just that. In some cases that might have been warranted, but registrars should definitely aim for a clear, transparent and fair process, so that the facts can be reviewed and appropriate action taken.
It’s something for people to keep in mind when they register a domain in future.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll be aware that online streaming of video is a massive deal right now.
In addition to the successes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, for example, unauthorized sources are also getting a piece of the digital action.
Of course, entertainment industry groups hate this and are quite understandably trying to do something about it. Few people have a really good argument as to why they shouldn’t but recent tactics by some video-affiliated groups are really starting to wear thin.
From the mouth of Hollywood itself, the trending worldwide anti-piracy message is that piracy is dangerous. Torrent sites carry viruses that will kill your computer, streaming sites carry malware that will steal your identity, and ISDs (that’s ‘Illegal Streaming Devices’, apparently) can burn down your home, kill you, and corrupt your children.
If anyone is still taking notice of these overblown doomsday messages, here’s another one. Brought to you by the Hollywood-funded Digital Citizens Alliance, the new video rams home the message – the exact same message in fact – that set-top boxes providing the latest content for free are a threat to, well, just about everything.
While the message is probably getting a little old now, it’s worth noting the big reveal at ten seconds into the video, where the evil pirate box is introduced to the viewer.
As reproduced in the left-hand image below, it is a blatantly obvious recreation of the totally content-neutral Raspberry Pi, the affordable small computer from the UK. Granted, people sometimes use it for Kodi (the image on the right shows a Kodi-themed Raspberry Pi case, created by official Kodi team partner FLIRC) but its overwhelming uses have nothing to do with the media center, or indeed piracy.
Disreputable and dangerous device? Of course not
So alongside all the scary messages, the video succeeds in demonizing a perfectly innocent and safe device of which more than 15 million have been sold, many of them directly to schools. Since the device is so globally recognizable, it’s a not inconsiderable error.
It’s a topic that the Kodi team itself vented over earlier this week, noting how the British tabloid media presented the recent wave of “Kodi Boxes Can Kill You” click-bait articles alongside pictures of the Raspberry Pi.
“Instead of showing one of the many thousands of generic black boxes sold without the legally required CE/UL marks, the media mainly chose to depict a legitimate Rasbperry Pi clothed in a very familiar Kodi case. The Pis originate from Cambridge, UK, and have been rigorously certified,” the team complain.
“We’re also super-huge fans of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and the proceeds of Pi board sales fund the awesome work they do to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in schools. The Kodi FLIRC case has also been a hit with our Raspberry Pi users and sales contribute towards the cost of events like Kodi DevCon.”
“It’s insulting, and potentially harmful, to see two successful (and safe) products being wrongly presented for the sake of a headline,” they conclude.
Indeed, it seems that both press and the entertainment industry groups that feed them have been playing fast and loose recently, with the Raspberry Pi getting a particularly raw deal.
Still, if it scares away some pirates, that’s the main thing….
More than seven years ago, it was predicted that the next big thing in anti-piracy enforcement would be the graduated response scheme.
Commonly known as “three strikes” or variants thereof, these schemes were promoted as educational in nature, with alleged pirates receiving escalating warnings designed to discourage further infringing behavior.
In the fall of 2010, France became one of the pioneers of the warning system and now almost more than seven years later, a new report from the country’s ‘Hadopi’ anti-piracy agency has revealed the extent of its operations.
Between July 2016 and June 2017, Hadopi sent a total of 889 cases to court, a 30% uplift on the 684 cases handed over during the same period 2015/2016. This boost is notable, not least since the use of peer-to-peer protocols (such as BitTorrent, which Hadopi closely monitors) is declining in favor of streaming methods.
When all the seven years of the scheme are added together ending August 31, 2017, the numbers are even more significant.
“Since the launch of the graduated response scheme, more than 2,000 cases have been sent to prosecutors for possible prosecution,” Hadopi’s report reads.
“The number of cases sent to the prosecutor’s office has increased every year, with a significant increase in the last two years. Three-quarters of all the cases sent to prosecutors have been sent since July 2015.”
In all, the Hadopi agency has sent more than nine million first warning notices to alleged pirates since 2012, with more than 800,000 follow-up warnings on top, 200,000 of them during 2016-2017. But perhaps of most interest is the number of French citizens who, despite all the warnings, carried on with their pirating behavior and ended up prosecuted as a result.
Since the program’s inception, 583 court decisions have been handed down against pirates. While 394 of them resulted in a small fine, a caution, or other community-based punishment, 189 citizens walked away with a criminal conviction.
These can include fines of up to 1,500 euros or in more extreme cases, up to three years in prison and/or a 300,000 euro fine.
While this approach looks set to continue into 2018, Hadopi’s report highlights the need to adapt to a changing piracy landscape, one which requires a multi-faceted approach. In addition to tracking pirates, Hadopi also has a mission to promote legal offerings while educating the public. However, it is fully aware that these strategies alone won’t be enough.
To that end, the agency is calling for broader action, such as faster blocking of sites, expanding to the blocking of mirror sites, tackling unauthorized streaming platforms and, of course, dealing with the “fully-loaded” set-top box phenomenon that’s been sweeping the world for the past two years.
The full report can be downloaded here (pdf, French)
YouTube is used by millions of people worldwide to access a broad range of content but it is music that is increasingly one of the platform’s big draws.
With an almost unrivaled library, YouTube is the go-to service for music fans globally but over in Finland this morning, things aren’t playing out well.
As shown in the image below, users who try to access music are now getting the following graphic. When translated the text reads “Video content owned by Teosto. The video can not be used in your country.”
No license…..No access…
This is a pretty big deal. Teosto is a Finnish performance rights organization that collects royalties on behalf of local artists and composers. It represents around 30,000 local songwriters and publishers, small fry when compared to the three million foreign music entities it represents in Finland.
This means that YouTube must have pulled huge volumes of content from its platform locally, rendering the service far less attractive to users. However, according to a TorrentFreak source, things go much further than standard modern licensed music.
As shown in the image below, even music published in 1899 has found itself pulled from the platform.
Jean Sibelius’ masterpiece Finlandia? Gone..
The music licensing dispute, which appears to have led to millions of tracks being rendered inaccessible in Finland, was confirmed by YouTube this morning.
“We were unable to reach a new licensing agreement with TEOSTO. Because of this, some videos containing music will be blocked in Finland,” the team said.
While the removal of content will come as a disappointment to the quarter of Finnish citizens who use YouTube regularly, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise.
In September, Teosto issued an opinion on copyrights to Parliament’s Education Committee. The licensing group complained that rightsholders aren’t adequately compensated for content played on platforms like YouTube. Like other groups in the same position, Teosto is looking to obtain more revenue for its members. That seems to be the basis for the dispute with YouTube.
For YouTube to have pulled so much content, negotiations must have really broken down, but Teosto sounded a note of optimism this morning. The group noted that while Google had indeed pulled music content from YouTube in Finland, it may reinstate it during the next couple of days.
Over the years, many useful devices have come along which enable the public to make copies of copyright works, the VCR (video cassette recorder) being a prime example.
But while many such devices have been consumed by history, their modern equivalents still pose tricky questions for copyright law. One such service is VCAST, which markets itself as a Video Cloud Recorder. It functions in a notionally similar way to its older cousin but substitutes cassette storage for that in the cloud.
VCAST targets the Italian market, allowing users to sign up in order to gain access to more than 50 digital terrestrial TV channels. However, rather than simply watching live, the user can tell VCAST to receive TV shows (via its own antenna system) while recording them to private cloud storage (such as Google Drive) for subsequent viewing over the Internet.
VCAST attracted the negative interests of rightsholders, including Mediaset-owned RTI, who doubted the legality of the service. So, in response, VCAST sued RTI at the Turin Court of First Instance, seeking a judgment confirming the legality of its operations. The company believed that since the recordings are placed in users’ own cloud storage, the Italian private copying exception would apply and rightsholders would be compensated.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the complexity of the case, the Turin Court decided to refer questions to the European Court of Justice. It essentially asked whether the private copying exception is applicable when the copying requires a service like VCAST and whether such a service is allowed to operate without permission from copyright holders.
In September, Advocate General Szpunar published his opinion, concluding that EU law prohibits this kind of service when copyright holders haven’t given their permission. Today, the ECJ handed down its decision, broadly agreeing with Szpunar’s conclusion.
“By today’s judgment, the Court finds that the service provided by VCAST has a dual functionality, consisting in ensuring both the reproduction and the making available of protected works. To the extent that the service offered by VCAST consists in the making available of protected works, it falls within communication to the public,” the ECJ announced.
“In that regard, the Court recalls that, according to the directive, any communication to the public, including the making available of a protected work or subject-matter, requires the rightholder’s consent, given that the right of communication of works to the public should be understood, in a broad sense, as covering any transmission or retransmission of a work to the public by wire or wireless means, including broadcasting.”
The ECJ notes that the original transmission made by RTI was intended for one audience. In turn, the transmission by VCAST was intended for another. In this respect, the subsequent VCAST transmission was made to a “new public”, which means that copyright holder permission is required under EU law.
“Accordingly, such a remote recording service cannot fall within the private copying exception,” the ECJ concludes.
Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society, in particular Article 5(2)(b) thereof, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which permits a commercial undertaking to provide private individuals with a cloud service for the remote recording of private copies of works protected by copyright, by means of a computer system, by actively involving itself in the recording, without the rightholder’s consent.
Entertainment companies have been taking legal action to have pirate sites blocked for more than a decade so it was only a matter of time before New Zealand had a taste of the action.
It’s now been revealed that Sky Network Television, the country’s biggest pay-TV service, filed a complaint with the High Court in September, demanding that four local Internet service providers block subscriber access to several ‘pirate’ sites.
At this point, the sites haven’t been named, but it seems almost inevitable that the likes of The Pirate Bay will be present. The ISPs are known, however. Spark, Vodafone, Vocus and Two Degrees control around 90% of the Kiwi market so any injunction handed down will affect almost the entire country.
In its application, Sky states that pirate sites make available unauthorized copies of its entertainment works, something which not only infringes its copyrights but also undermines its business model. But while this is standard fare in such complaints, the Internet industry backlash today is something out of the ordinary.
ISPs in other jurisdictions have fought back against blocking efforts but few have deployed the kind of language being heard in New Zealand this morning.
Vocus Group – which runs the Orcon, Slingshot and Flip brands – is labeling Sky’s efforts as “gross censorship and a breach of net neutrality”, adding that they’re in direct opposition to the idea of a free and open Internet.
“SKY’s call that sites be blacklisted on their say so is dinosaur behavior, something you would expect in North Korea, not in New Zealand. It isn’t our job to police the Internet and it sure as hell isn’t SKY’s either, all sites should be equal and open,” says Vocus Consumer General Manager Taryn Hamilton.
But in response, Sky said Vocus “has got it wrong”, highlighting that site-blocking is now common practice in places such as Australia and the UK.
“Pirate sites like Pirate Bay make no contribution to the development of content, but rather just steal it. Over 40 countries around the world have put in place laws to block such sites, and we’re just looking to do the same,” the company said.
The broadcaster says it will only go to court to have dedicated pirate sites blocked, ones that “pay nothing to the creators” while stealing content for their own gain.
“We’re doing this because illegal streaming and content piracy is a major threat to the entertainment, creative and sporting industries in New Zealand and abroad. With piracy, not only is the sport and entertainment content that we love at risk, but so are the livelihoods of the thousands of people employed by these industries,” the company said.
“Illegally sharing or viewing content impacts a vast number of people and jobs including athletes, actors, artists, production crew, customer service representatives, event planners, caterers and many, many more.”
ISP Spark, which is also being targeted by Sky, was less visibly outraged than some of its competitors. However, the company still feels that controlling what people can see on the Internet is a slippery slope.
“We have some sympathy for this given we invest tens of millions of dollars into content ourselves through Lightbox. However, we don’t think it should be the role of ISPs to become the ‘police of the internet’ on behalf of other parties,” a Spark spokesperson said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sky’s blocking efforts haven’t been well received by InternetNZ, the non-profit organization which protects and promotes Internet use in New Zealand.
Describing the company’s application for an injunction as an “extreme step”, InternetNZ Chief Executive Jordan Carter said that site-blocking works against the “very nature” of the Internet and is a measure that’s unlikely to achieve its goals.
“Site blocking is very easily evaded by people with the right skills or tools. Those who are deliberate pirates will be able to get around site blocking without difficulty,” Carter said.
“If blocking is ordered, it risks driving content piracy further underground, with the help of easily-deployed and common Internet tools. This could well end up making the issues that Sky are facing even harder to police in the future.”
What most of the ISPs and InternetNZ are also agreed on is the need to fight piracy with competitive, attractive legal offerings. Vocus says that local interest in The Pirate Bay has halved since Netflix launched in New Zealand, with traffic to the torrent site sitting at just 23% of its peak 2013 levels.
“The success of Netflix, iTunes and Spotify proves that people are willing to pay to access good-quality content. It’s pretty clear that SKY doesn’t understand the internet, and is trying a Hail Mary to turnaround its sunset business,” Vocus Consumer General Manager Taryn Hamilton said.
The big question now is whether the High Court has the ability to order these kinds of blocks. InternetNZ has its doubts, noting that it should only happen following a parliamentary mandate.
Instead of companies like the MPAA, Amazon, Netflix, CBS, HBO, BBC, Sky, CBS, Foxtel, and Village Roadshow tackling piracy completely solo, this year they teamed up to form the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE).
This massive collaboration of 30 companies represents a new front in the fight against piracy, with global players publicly cooperating to tackle the phenomenon in all its forms.
The same is true of CASBAA‘s Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), a separate anti-piracy collective which to some extent shares the same members as ACE but with a sharp of focus on Asia.
This morning the groups announced the results of a joint investigation in Australia which targeted a large supplier of illicit IPTV devices. These small set-top boxes, which come in several forms, are often configured to receive programming from unauthorized sources. In this particular case, they came pre-loaded to play pirated movies, television shows, sports programming, plus other content.
The Melbourne-based company targeted by ACE and CAP allegedly sold these devices in Asia for many years. The company demanded AUS$400 (US$305) per IPTV unit and bundled each with a year’s subscription to pirated TV channels and on-demand movies from the US, EU, India and South East Asia markets.
In the past, companies operating in these areas have often been met with overwhelming force including criminal action, but ACE and CAP appear to have reached an agreement with the company and its owner, even going as far as keeping their names out of the press.
In return, the company has agreed to measures which will prevent people who have already invested in these boxes being able to access ACE and CAP content going forward. That is likely to result in a whole bunch of irritated customers.
“The film and television industry has made significant investments to provide audiences with access to creative content how, where, and when they want it,” says ACE spokesperson Zoe Thorogood.
“ACE and CAP members initiated this investigation as part of a comprehensive global approach to protect the legal marketplace for creative content, reduce online piracy, and bolster a creative economy that supports millions of workers. This latest action was part of a series of global actions to address the growth of illegal and unsafe piracy devices and apps.”
Neil Gane, General Manager of the CASBAA Coalition Against Piracy (CAP), also weighed in with what are now becoming industry-standard warnings of losses to content makers and supposed risks to consumers.
“These little black boxes are now beginning to dominate the piracy ecosystem, causing significant damage to all sectors of the content industry, from producers to telecommunication platforms,” Gane said.
“They also pose a risk to consumers who face a well-documented increase in exposure to malware. The surge in availability of these illicit streaming devices is an international issue that requires a coordinated effort between industry and government. This will be the first of many disruption and enforcement initiatives on which CAP, ACE, and other industry associations will be collaborating together.”
In September, TF revealed the secret agreement behind the ACE initiative, noting how the group’s founding members are required to commit $5m each annually to the project. The remaining 21 companies on the coalition’s Executive Committee put in $200,000 each.
While today’s IPTV announcement was very public, ACE has already been flexing its muscles behind the scenes. Earlier this month we reported on several cases where UK-based Kodi addon developers were approached by the anti-piracy group and warned to shut down – or else.
While all complied, each was warned not to reveal the terms of their agreement with ACE. This means that the legal basis for its threats remains shrouded in mystery. That being said, it’s likely that several European Court of Justice decisions earlier in the year played a key role.
Mashups are musical compositions, usually made up of two or more tracks seamlessly blended together, which bring something fresh and new to the listener.
There are hundreds of stunning examples online, many created in hobbyist circles, with dedicated communities sharing their often brilliant work.
However, the majority of mashups have something in common – they’re created without any permission from the copyright holders’ of the original tracks. As such they remain controversial, as mashup platform Sowndhaus has just discovered.
This Canada-based platform allows users to upload, share and network with other like-minded mashup enthusiasts. It has an inbuilt player, somewhat like Soundcloud, through which people can play a wide range of user-created mashups. However, sometime last Tuesday, Sowndhaus’ main domain, Sowndhaus.com, became unreachable.
Sowndhaus: High-quality mashups
The site’s operators say that they initially believed there was some kind of configuration issue. Later, however, they discovered that their domain had been “purposefully de-listed” from its DNS servers by its registrar.
“DomainBox had received a DMCA notification from the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) and immediately suspended our .com domain,” Sowndhaus’ operators report.
At this point it’s worth noting that while Sowndhaus is based and hosted in Canada, DomainBox is owned by UK-based Mesh Digital Limited, which is in turn owned by GoDaddy. IFPI, however, reportedly sent a US-focused DMCA notice to the registrar which noted that the music group had “a good faith belief” that activity on Sowndhaus “is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”
While mashups have always proved controversial, Sowndhaus believe that they operate well within Canadian law.
“We have a good faith belief that the audio files allegedly ‘infringing copyright’ in the DMCA notification are clearly transformative works and meet all criteria for ‘Non-commercial User-generated Content’ under Section 29.21 of the Copyright Act (Canada), and as such are authorized by the law,” the site says.
“Our service, servers, and files are located in Canada which has a ‘Notice and Notice regime’ and where DMCA (a US law) has no jurisdiction. However, the jurisdiction for our .com domain is within the US/EU and thus subject to its laws.”
Despite a belief that the site operates lawfully, Sowndhaus took a decision to not only take down the files listed in IFPI’s complaint but also to ditch its .com domain completely. While this convinced DomainBox to give control of the domain back to the mashup platform, Sowndhaus has now moved to a completely new domain (sowndhaus.audio), to avoid further issues.
“We neither admit nor accept that any unlawful activity or copyright infringement with respect to the DMCA claim had taken place, or has ever been permitted on our servers, or that it was necessary to remove the files or service under Section 29.21 of the Copyright Act (Canada) with which we have always been, and continue to be, in full compliance,” the site notes.
“The use of copyright material as Non-commercial User-generated Content is authorized by law in Canada, where our service resides. We believe that the IFPI are well aware of this, are aware of the jurisdiction of our service, and therefore that their DMCA notification is a misrepresentation of copyright.”
Aside from what appears to have been a rapid suspension of Sowndhaus’ .com domain, the site says that it is being held to a higher standard of copyright protection that others operating under the DMCA.
Unlike YouTube, for example, Sowndhaus says it pro-actively removes files found to infringe copyright. It also bans users who use the site to commit piracy, as per its Terms of Service.
“This is a much stronger regime than would be required under the DMCA guidelines where users generally receive warnings and strikes before being banned, and where websites complying with the DMCA and seeking to avoid legal liability do not actively seek out cases of infringement, leading to some cases of genuine piracy remaining undetected on their services,” the site says.
However, the site remains defiant in respect of the content it hosts, noting that mashups are transformative works that use copyright content “in new and creative ways to form new works of art” and as such are legal for non-commercial purposes.
That hasn’t stopped it from being targeted by copyright holders in the past, however.
This year three music-based organizations (IFPI, RIAA, and France’s SCPP) have sent complaints to Google about the platform, targeting close to 200 URLs. However, at least for more recent complaints, Google hasn’t been removing the URLs from its indexes.
Complaints sent to Google about Sowndhaus in 2017<
Noting that corporations are using their powers “to hinder, stifle, and silence protected new forms of artistic expression with no repercussions”, Sowndhaus says that it is still prepared to work with copyright holders but wishes they would “reconsider their current policies and accept non-commercial transformative works as legitimate art forms with legal protections and/or exemptions in all jurisdictions.”
While Sowndhaus is now operating from a new domain, the switch is not without its inconveniences. All URLs with links to files on sowndhaus.com are broken but can be fixed by changing the .com to .audio.
DomainBox did not respond to TorrentFreak’s request for comment.
For the past several years, anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp has been trying to turn piracy into profit. The company monitors BitTorrent networks, captures IP addresses, then attempts to force ISPs to forward cash settlement demands to its subscribers.
Unlike other companies operating in the same area, Rightscorp has adopted a “speeding fine” type model, where it asks for $20 to $30 to make a supposed lawsuit go away, instead of the many hundreds demanded by its rivals. To date, this has resulted in the company closing more than 230,000 cases of infringement.
But despite the high numbers, the company doesn’t seem to be able to make it pay. Rightscorp’s latest set of financial results covering the three months ended September 30, 2017, show how bad things have got on the settlement front.
During the period in question, Rightscorp generated copyright settlement revenues of $45,848, an average of just $15,282 per month. That represents a decrease of 67% when compared to the $139,834 generated during the same period in 2016.
When looking at settlement revenues year to date, Rightscorp generated $184,362 in 2017, a decrease of 48% when compared to $354,160 generated during the same nine-month period in 2016.
But as bleak as these figures are, things get much worse. Out of these top-line revenues, Rightscorp has to deal with a whole bunch of costs before it can put anything into its own pockets. For example, in exchange for the right to pursue pirates, Rightscorp agrees to pay around 50% of everything it generates from settlements back to copyright holders.
So, for the past three months when it collected $45,848 from BitTorrent users, it must pay out $22,924 to copyright holders. Last year, in the same period, it paid them $69,143. For the year to date (nine months ended September 30, 2017), the company paid $92,181 to copyright holders, that’s versus $174,878 for the same period last year.
Whichever way you slice it, Rightscorp settlement model appears to be failing. With revenues from settlements down by almost half thus far this year, one has to question where this is all going, especially with BitTorrent piracy volumes continuing to fall in favor of other less traceable methods such as streaming.
However, Rightscorp does have a trick up its sleeve that is helping to keep the company afloat. As previously reported, the company has amassed a lot of intelligence on pirate activity which clearly has some value to copyright holders.
That data is currently being utilized by both BMG and the RIAA, who are using it as evidence in copyright liability lawsuits filed against ISPs Cox and Grande Communications, where each stand accused of failing to disconnect repeat infringers.
This selling of ‘pirate’ data is listed by Rightscorp in its financial reports as “consulting services” and thus far at least, it’s proving to be a crucial source of income.
“During the three months ended September 30, 2017, we generated revenues of $76,666 from consulting services rendered under service arrangements with prominent trade organizations,” Rightscorp reports.
“Under the agreements, the Company is providing certain data and consultation regarding copyright infringements on such organizations’ respective properties. During the three months ended September 30, 2016, we had no consulting services revenue.”
Year to date, the numbers begin to add up. In the nine months ended September 30, 2017, Rightscorp generated revenues of $224,998 from this facet of their business, that’s versus zero revenue in 2016.
It’s clear that without this “consulting” revenue, Rightscorp would be in an even worse situation than it is today. In fact, it appears that these services, provided to the likes of the RIAA, are now preventing the company from falling into the abyss. All that being said, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen anyway.
To the nine months ended September 30, 2017, Rightscorp recorded a net loss of $1,448,899, which is even more than the $1,380,698 it lost during the same period last year. As a result, the company had just $3,147 left in cash at the end of September. That crisis was eased by issuing 2.5 million shares to an investor for a purchase price just $50,000. But to keep going, Rightscorp will need more money – much more.
“Management believes that the Company will need an additional $250,000 to $500,000 in 2017 to fund operations based on our current operating plans,” it reports, noting that there is “substantial doubt” whether Rightscorp can continue as a going concern.
But despite all the bad news, Rightscorp manages to survive and at least in the short-term, the piracy data it has amassed holds value, beyond basic cash settlement letters. The question is, for how long?
Late October 2016, we reported on an alarming situation in Poland, where police had visited hundreds of homes across the country, seizing computers alleged to have been involved in the sharing of a comedy movie titled “Screwed“.
In some cases, police reportedly advised suspects to settle with copyright holders rather than face legal action, something critics felt was particularly inappropriate in an unproven copyright case. Now it appears that history is repeating itself in the region, with people being targeted over downloads of a local thriller titled “Drogówka”.
While this is of concern in itself, the alleged offenses took place via BitTorrent way back in 2013, four whole years ago. Local journalist Marcin Maj at Bezprawnik, who’s also an IT security instructor at Niebezpiecznik, has been documenting the activities of copyright trolls in Poland for some time. He picked up the story this week after he learned that police had seized an alleged file-sharer’s computer.
After speaking with local police, he subsequently discovered that 200 to 300 other people had been given the same treatment.
Maj says that after presenting a long list of questions to authorities, he learned that these seizures have been going on continuously for about a year, following a criminal complaint filed by a law firm. It’s that this point that the uncomfortable nature of this whole operation becomes apparent.
“In 2013-2014, lawyer Artur Glass-Brudziński reported numerous copyright infringements (movie sharing) to the prosecutor’s office, and the prosecutor’s office started to identify people behind the indicated IP addresses,” Maj informs TF.
“It’s important to understand that in the Polish legal system, it’s impossible to sue someone who is unknown to a plaintiff [John Doe]. But you can always start a criminal proceeding.”
Such a criminal proceeding was filed in 2014 but it appears that Glass-Brudziński used the process to gain a secondary advantage.
“As a barrister of the [copyright holder], Artur Glass-Brudziński had access to the prosecutor’s documentation. So he used this to obtain identified names and addresses, without waiting for the end of the criminal proceeding. Those people were just witnesses, but Glass-Brudziński sent thousands of letters to them, suggesting they are suspects, which was not true,” Maj says.
So, in effect, a criminal action was used to gain access to personal details that were subsequently used in civil actions. That’s completely legal and quite common in Poland but many view the process as problematic.
“Polish lawyers see this as something not quite ethical,” Maj reports. “Now Glass-Brudziński faces a disciplinary court because his letters were quite misleading. Regardless of that, however, criminal proceedings are still underway.”
A hearing took place before the Disciplinary Court November 13 but a resolution will take some time to reach since there around 80 people involved in the case. In the meantime the current criminal case continues, with several problems.
For example, it’s quite likely that many people will have changed their computers since 2013, but the police are required to seize the ones people currently have. Also, Maj reports that after speaking to people who received demands for cash payment, many report having had nothing to do with the alleged offenses. But there is a broader problem around such cases in general.
As we reported last year, prosecutors admit that they do not verify the technical processes that the copyright holders use to identify the alleged infringers, meaning that hundreds of members of the public are subjected to property seizures based on untested evidence.
“Polish prosecutors often decide to seize computers just because they got an IP address list from a lawyer. Sometimes even prosecutors don’t want to do that, but copyright owners complain to the courts, and the courts issue an order to seize machines. That’s deeply absurd,” Maj says.
“Many times I have asked prosecutors if they check the method used to track pirates. Many times I have asked prosecutors if they have found evidence on every seized computer. The answers? No. They don’t check the method of tracking pirates, and evidence is found only ‘sometimes’.”
There are clearly mounting problems in Poland with both evidence and discovery-based loopholes providing copyright holders with a significant advantage. While questionable, it’s currently all legal, so it seems likely that as long as ‘victims’ can gain access to private information via criminal cases, the cash threats will continue. It’s a topic covered in a report compiled by Maj and the Modern Poland Foundation (Polish, pdf)
“Computer seizures and our report were discussed in the lower house of the Polish parliament in 2016, at the meeting of the Commision of Digitalization, Innovation and New Technologies. Many politicians are aware of the problem and they declare we should do something to stop bullying and seizures. Unfortunately, it all ended with was declarations,” Maj concludes.
While Switzerland sits geographically in the heart of Europe, the country is not part of the European Union, meaning that its copyright laws are often out of touch with those of the countries encircling it.
For years this has meant heavy criticism from the United States, whose trade representative has put Switzerland on the Watch List, citing weaknesses in the country’s ability to curb online copyright infringement.
“The decision to place Switzerland on the Watch List this year is premised on U.S. concerns regarding specific difficulties in Switzerland’s system of online copyright protection and enforcement,” the USTR wrote in 2016.
Things didn’t improve in 2017. Referencing the so-called Logistep Decision, which found that collecting infringers’ IP addresses is unlawful, the USTR said that Switzerland had effectively deprived copyright holders of the means to enforce their rights online.
All of this criticism hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. For the past several years, Switzerland has been deeply involved in consultations that aim to shape future copyright law. Negotiations have been prolonged, however, with the Federal Council aiming to improve the situation for creators without impairing the position of consumers.
A new draft compromise tabled Wednesday is somewhat of a mixed bag, one that is unlikely to please the United States overall but could prove reasonably acceptable to the public.
First of all, people will still be able to ‘pirate’ as much copyrighted material as they like, as long as that content is consumed privately and does not include videogames or software, which are excluded. Any supposed losses accrued by the entertainment industries will be compensated via a compulsory tax of 13 Swiss francs ($13), levied on media playback devices including phones and tablets.
This freedom only applies to downloading and streaming, meaning that any uploading (distribution) is explicitly ruled out. So, while grabbing some streaming content via a ‘pirate’ Kodi addon is just fine, using BitTorrent to achieve the same is ruled out.
Indeed, rightsholders will be able to capture IP addresses of suspected infringers in order to file a criminal complaint with authorities. That being said, there will no system of warning notices targeting file-sharers.
But while the authorization of unlicensed downloads will only frustrate an already irritated United States, the other half of the deal is likely to be welcomed.
Under the recommendations, Internet services will not only be required to remove infringing content from their platforms, they’ll also be compelled to prevent that same content from reappearing. Failure to comply will result in prosecution. It’s a standard that copyright holders everywhere are keen for governments to adopt.
Additionally, the spotlight will fall on datacenters and webhosts that have a reputation for being popular with pirate sites. It’s envisioned that such providers will be prevented from offering services to known pirate sites, with the government clearly stating that services with piracy at the heart of their business models will be ripe for action.
But where there’s a plus for copyright holders, the Swiss have another minus. Previously it was proposed that in serious cases authorities should be able to order the ISP blocking of “obviously illegal content or sources.” That proposal has now been dropped, meaning no site-blocking will be allowed.
Other changes in the draft envision an extension of the copyright term from 50 to 70 years and improved protection for photographic works. The proposals also feature increased freedoms for researchers and libraries, who will be able to use copyrighted works without obtaining permission from rightsholders.
Overall the proposals are a pretty mixed bag but as Minister of Justice Simonetta Sommaruga said Wednesday, if no one is prepared to compromise, no one will get anything.
Financed by Russian Facebook (vKontakte) founder Pavel Durov, Telegram is a multi-platform messaging system that has grown from 100,000 daily users in 2013 to an impressive 100 million users in February 2016.
“Telegram is a messaging app with a focus on speed and security, it’s super-fast, simple and free. You can use Telegram on all your devices at the same time — your messages sync seamlessly across any number of your phones, tablets or computers,” the company’s marketing reads.
One of the attractive things about Telegram is that it allows users to communicate with each other using end-to-end encryption. In some cases, these systems are used for content piracy, of music and other smaller files in particular. This is compounded by the presence of user-programmed bots, which are able to search the web for illegal content and present it in a Telegram channel to which other users can subscribe.
While much of this sharing files under the radar when conducted privately, it periodically attracts attention from copyright holders when it takes place in public channels. That appears to have happened recently when popular channel “Any Suitable Pop” was completely disabled by Telegram, an apparent first following a copyright complaint.
According to channel creator Anton Vagin, the action by Telegram was probably due to the unauthorized recent sharing of the Taylor Swift album ‘Reputation’. However, it was the route of complaint that proves of most interest.
Rather than receiving a takedown notice directly from Big Machine Records, the label behind Swift’s releases, Telegram was forced into action after receiving threats from Apple and Google, the companies that distribute the Telegram app for iOS and Android respectively.
According to a message Vagin received from Telegram support, Apple and Google had received complaints about Swift’s album from Universal Music, the distributor of Big Machine Records. The suggestion was that if Telegram didn’t delete the infringing channel, distribution of the Telegram app via iTunes and Google Play would be at risk. Vagin received no warning notices from any of the companies involved.
Message from Telegram support
According to Russian news outlet VC.ru, which first reported the news, the channel was blocked in Telegram’s desktop applications, as well as in versions for Android, macOS and iOS. However, the channel still existed on the web and via Windows phone applications but all messages within had been deleted.
The fact that Google played a major role in the disappearing of the channel was subsequently confirmed by Telegram founder Pavel Durov, who commented that it was Google who “ultimately demanded the blocking of this channel.”
That Telegram finally caved into the demands of Google and/or Apple doesn’t really come as a surprise. In Telegram’s frequently asked questions section, the company specifically mentions the need to comply with copyright takedown demands in order to maintain distribution via the companies’ app marketplaces.
“Our mission is to provide a secure means of communication that works everywhere on the planet. To do this in the places where it is most needed (and to continue distributing Telegram through the App Store and Google Play), we have to process legitimate requests to take down illegal public content (sticker sets, bots, and channels) within the app,” the company notes.
Putting pressure on Telegram via Google and Apple over piracy isn’t a new development. In the past, representatives of the music industry threatened to complain to the companies over a channel operated by torrent site RuTracker, which was set up to share magnet links.
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