When pirate sites are taken down following legal action, it’s not uncommon for the plaintiffs to try and take control of their domains.
The practice has been going on for years, with domains like isoHunt.com and the affiliated Podtropolis.com still redirecting to an anti-piracy page operated by the MPAA.
More recently we’ve reported on the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (which is headed up by the MPAA or MPA America as it’s now known) taking over domains previously used to offer ‘pirate’ IPTV services. They include OneStepTV, TVStreamsNow and DoozerIPTV but none of these ‘seizures’ have been reported by the organization.
Behind the scenes, however, many more additional takeovers are taking place, all without fanfare.
Visitors to former IPTV provider BestTVStream, for example, are now being directed to ACE’s anti-piracy portal. The signs suggest that the service may have come to some agreement with ACE which included handing over its domain to MPA A, but no public details are available.
A similar scenario faces former customers of IPTV provider XCaliberTV who are now being informed that the service has been shut down due to copyright infringement before being diverted to ACE’s site in the same manner.
Exactly the same can be said of More Media Solutions, which operated from MoreMediaBox.com. One day last month it was working, the next it began diverting to ACE, with no one saying a word.
One of the more curious ‘seizures’ involves two domains with the same initial name – rveal.biz and rveal.xyz. According to a capture by the Wayback Machine, the former of these domains previously diverted to Rveal.com, which is a still-functioning site offering Android-style TV boxes. Previously, it appears that Rveal sold devices that claimed to provide access to premium content for free.
We contacted Rveal for comment a little while back but in common with similar inquiries placed with some former operators of other apparently ‘seized’ or ‘commandeered’ domains, we received no response.
We cannot draw any firm conclusions from that silence but not wanting to say much – if anything at all – does seem to be the norm in many of these domain cases, both before, during, and after ‘seizure’. The Vaders.tv and Minihosts.org takedowns were well-publicized, but many others are quietly being dealt with, quite probably with the agreement of the parties involved.
TVAddons was once the go-to place for the vast majority of Kodi addons, regardless of who authored them or how they were ultimately used.
Visitors to the platform today, which is still doing relatively well, find a much more sober operation, with listed addons carefully vetted, to weed out any that might help end-users breach copyright law.
This current mode of business is the result of two punishing lawsuits, one filed against founder Adam Lackman in the US by DISH Networks and the other in Canada. While the former was settled in 2018, the latter – filed by media giants Bell Canada, TVA, Videotron, and Rogers – is very much alive.
Progression in the lawsuit appears glacial with an end nowhere in sight. This week Lackman informed TorrentFreak that the companies don’t appear to be in a mood to settle as DISH had done before them. As a result, every legal twist and turn contributes to the mountain of debt Lackman says he’s struggling beneath.
At several points since the case began, Lackman has turned to TVAddons‘ users and other supporters to help raise funds. He believes it’s worth putting up a fight but the Canadian is clearly facing an uphill battle.
Unable to bankroll him any further, his original legal team quit, leaving him with two separate bills of CAD$83,991 and CAD$38,989 to settle before he can move on.
“I was lucky enough to find my original lawyers, however their firms couldn’t handle devoting the time needed unless they were to be paid in full within a timely manner. They couldn’t afford to ignore other business while defending my case on credit,” he explains.
In his latest fundraising effort, launched this week, he’s seeking a total of CAD$171,981 – an amount which includes close to CAD$50,000 to cover some of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, previously awarded to them by the court.
If Lackman raises the full amount anytime soon, he will only break even, leaving him to raise additional funds to continue the fight. Even then, it appears that future battles will have to take place supported by a relatively tight budget.
“As of now I am acting in my own defense, with the help of some legal experts in the background,” he told us recently. “I am looking for new potential representation, but regardless the current debt is not one that I can comfortably carry.
“By defending myself, I hope to avoid incurring too much additional debt. I’m obviously not capable of doing all the paperwork on my own, so I’m getting help with that. I’m hoping that the court recognizes this and protects my right to a fair trial in the process.”
Given the scale of the debt and Lackman’s apparent inability to pay, he says the specter of bankruptcy is never far away. He seems keen to avoid that, not least since his adversaries would achieve an immediate victory.
“I could easily go into bankruptcy right now, but then the plaintiffs would win by default. I feel the fight is too important, and my defense is too strong, to give up now,” he says.
However complicated and expensive the case has become, Lackman believes that he has the law on his side. While TVAddons indexed code that could scrape external sources for content, he insists that the site never hosted or directly linked to any infringing material.
But more importantly, Lackman says, the companies suing him and/or their affiliates never sent the platform a takedown notice before taking action, something he describes as a “prerequisite to their claim being eligible for damages.”
While that assertion may yet prove correct, having that definitively determined by a court of law is proving a supremely costly endeavor. Lackman is working under the assumption that the plaintiffs are trying to break him financially, a theory supported by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.
“To this day the copyright cartels are still suing people for anything they dislike,” he wrote on Twitter this week, commenting on the TVAddons case.
“It’s a mob using bullying methods, trying to force people into bankruptcy so they can’t defend themselves and thus the cartel wins on financial walkover.”
Whether that doomsday scenario will play out in Lackman’s case seems wholely dependent on whether people donate to his latest and future fundraisers. At the time of writing, he’s just $2,471 closer to his $171,981 goal.
By now, it’s commonly known that you are not supposed to republish copyrighted works without permission. However, people have different views on what the effect of manga piracy is on the revenues of publishers.
Rightsholders often stress that the industry is endangered by people who ‘steal’ their content, while manga consumers can see it as a form of promotion. Free sampling can satisfy the reading needs that are beyond their budget, expanding their horizons.
Newly published research by Professor Tatsuo Tanaka of the Faculty of Economics at Keio University suggests that both sides have a point.
The findings come from a natural experiment that uses a massive takedown campaign conducted by anti-piracy group CODA in 2015. This campaign reduced the availability of pirated comics on various download sites, which allowed Professor Tanaka to analyze how this affected sales of 3,360 comic book volumes.
“Piracy decreased the legitimate sales of ongoing comics but stimulated legitimate sales of completed comics,” Professor Tanaka writes.
The overall effect of piracy could not be measured with this methodology but the findings clearly show that piracy does have some positive effects. In this case, it shows the number of sales of completed comic book series increase.
This heterogeneous piracy effect on sales is not unique. Previously, research has shown that the Megaupload shutdown increased box office revenues for bigger films, but hurt smaller releases.
The manga piracy findings are particularly relevant for the Manga Rock situation. Following discussions with publishers, the site plans to remove all its pirated titles at the end of this month and return with a completely legal platform in a few months’ time.
Interestingly, that goes against the recommendation of Professor Tanaka, who writes the following in his paper:
“If the effect of piracy is heterogeneous, it is not the best solution to shut down the piracy sites uniformly but to delete harmful piracy files selectively if possible. In this case, deleting piracy files of ongoing comics only is the first best strategy for publishers regardless of whether the total effect is positive or negative, because the availability of piracy files of completed comics is beneficial to both publishers and consumers.”
The paper was published in August and is based on older, previously-released data. So, one should be careful when applying it to the Manga Rock case, which is newer and deals with fan-made scanlation copies. That said, it could give the publishers some food for thought.
Manga Rock is massively popular and has millions of engaged Mmanga fans in its user base. Keeping some of these on board, even with a smaller library, could be smarter than simply driving them towards the next pirate site.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is known as one of the world’s leading anti-piracy organizations.
The trade association has been around for nearly a century. After its inception, the group mostly operated from California but in today’s world that’s no longer the case.
Today the organization has tentacles in nearly every corner of the world and its offices stretch from Brazil, through Belgium, to Singapore. These overseas branches have been operating under the Motion Picture Association (MPA) brand, which the MPAA has now decided to adopt as well.
This means that going forward, all operations will take place under the MPA name, with an optional indicator of the relevant region. The head ‘branch’ formerly known as the MPAA is now MPA America.
“In the nearly 100 years since our founding, the film and television industry has rapidly grown and evolved, and the stories we tell now reach every corner of the world,” MPA Chairman and CEO Charles H. Rivkin comments on the change.
“This new, unified global brand better reflects today’s dynamic content creation industry, the multi-platform distribution models of our companies, and the worldwide audiences we all serve,” Rivkin adds.
The change comes with several new and unified logos, which can be downloaded without repercussions. The organization’s website has also changed from MPAA.org to Motionpictures.org, dropping the America mention.
While the changes to the logo and name appear minimal, the unified branding will certainly be more clear to outsiders. Previously, the MPAA and MPA names were used in tandem, even though they were operating under the same parent organization.
The name change comes at a time of change for the MPA. The organization recently added Netflix as a new member, breaking from its long tradition of backing only major Hollywood studios.
At the same time, the group has taken the lead at a new international anti-piracy outfit, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which is comprised of many international rightsholders. The new MPA branding will follow this international trend.
For TorrentFreak, the departure of the MPAA ‘name’ is significant as well. If we look through our archive we see 1,621 articles where the MPAA is referenced, making it one of the most common topics at the site. As such, we may need a few weeks to properly adjust to the new name.
As reported Wednesday, police in Italy and several other European countries coordinated to take down Xtream Codes, at least one IPTV provider, and more than twenty individuals and related equipment linked to the services.
The precise roles of all these people remain unclear. However, there can be little doubt that emphasis is being placed on the importance of the Xtream Codes management system which, according to law enforcement officials, lay at the very heart of the targeted criminal operation even though the software didn’t supply any content.
This very large operation involved police forces in Italy, the Netherlands, France and Bulgaria. It was coordinated across borders with the assistance of Eurojust, an EU agency that helps agencies from member states to co-operate in criminal matters.
Yesterday afternoon, a press conference took place to explain how the operation panned out, who it had targeted, and to detail various additional pieces of information. It began with Filippo Spiezia, National Member for Italy at Eurojust, explaining that hundreds of officers had been involved in the operation to dismantle the technological infrastructure of a “criminal IPTV network.”
Spiezia confirmed that 181 servers had been taken down and seized and more than 800,000 users (police reported 700,000 earlier yesterday) had been disconnected from the Xtream Codes service when it was taken down.
In what became a common theme throughout the conference with several participants, Spieza sometimes appeared to speak generally about the entire operation, which included the takedown of at least one actual IPTV provider, then sometimes in relation to Xtream Codes alone.
This ambiguity and lack of clarity appear to be causing confusion. For example, Reuters reported the following yesterday:
“The biggest illegal platform shut down on Wednesday, dubbed Xtream Codes, had around 50 millions users worldwide,” Reuters reported, citing Gianluca Berruti of the Italian tax police.
“It sold a bundled pay-TV service that included premium content from Comcast’s Sky Italia, Netflix, Mediaset, Dazn, for a monthly subscription of 12 euros,” it claimed Berruti added.
Again, ‘pirate’ IPTV sellers utilizing the Xtream Codes platform may have been doing just that but, at this stage, the second claim above doesn’t make sense or indeed add up. Fifty million users multiplied by 12 euros a month is a staggering amount of money that wasn’t supported by financial information provided later in the conference.
In common with all of those present at yesterday’s gathering, Filippo Spiezia expressed satisfaction at the success of the international operation, noting that cross-border cooperation had proved invaluable since the investigation began.
“During these months of work at Eurojust, we have adapted to the judicial needs of the Italian authorities….to the specific legal requirements of our new partners. This is the first example of an action conducted with these modalities,” he said.
“Thanks to this action we have sent out a very clear signal to criminals that even in this specific domain, even in this specific area which represents the most advanced form of criminality, we will [respond] to them.”
Vincenzo Piscitelli, Deputy Prosecutor in Naples, painted a picture of small offenses by end-users (pirate IPTV subscribers) fueling “huge illegal activities” behind the scenes.
“So this is why we really tried to hit these organizational structures at the heart and that was done through the investigation that was carried out by the public prosecutor’s office of Naples,” he said.
Next up was Valeria Sico, Public Prosecutor in Naples. Sico spoke quickly and through a translator, so that may account for what at times felt like confusing output. While clearly an expert in law, those looking for clear and specific technical details from the Prosecutor failed to receive them.
Some of what Sico said made sense but the fact that Xtream Codes isn’t normally understood to be an actual provider of illegal streams (although it is undoubtedly used by outsiders to manage them), it’s worth reproducing some of her words in full, to see how muddied this has become.
“There was software created by two citizens of Greek nationality. They have a company which had a legal seat in Bulgaria,” Sico said, confirming the information previously supplied by the Italian authorities.
“So this software enables the disclosure and the transmission of [pirate] TV signals through digital ways to different servers which were constructed by the organizations, by the host providers in the Netherlands and in France.
“Through these servers, the signal – the digital signal – was therefore sent to different IP addresses of final users and these people would then receive the [illegal] television signal in their homes.”
Again, it’s worth reiterating that Sico was speaking through a translator so some context and detail may have been lost but from there, the explanation didn’t really become any more clear.
“For the first time, having identified the company that was producing the software, we went directly to the company that was producing the software so they were enabling people to decrypt the signal,” she said.
“So this is why we also went right to the physical place where the disclosure [broadcast] of the signal would take place within these hosting provider companies in Holland and in France….the signal was broadcast to the company that had created the illegal signal – the software company – and then that was sent to the end-users.”
Again, this isn’t the broadly accepted function of the Xtream Codes system, unless the company itself was also involved in the provision of illicit streams. That claim has been the subject of speculation in the past 24 hours, perhaps based on the Reuters report.
Thankfully, Cybercrime Prosecutor Lodewijk Van Zwieten from the Netherlands kept things fairly simple in his prepared speech.
He began by noting that 93 servers had been taken down in one location in the Netherlands, all of which had targeted the Italian market. This seems to be a reference to equipment operated by the actual IPTV provider shown in the video published yesterday.
According to a chart published by the authorities and reproduced below, it was using the Xtream Codes management software, something which seems to have led the company’s software becoming embroiled in the investigation.
Van Zwieten said that no offenses had been committed by Dutch citizens but confirmed that local Internet infrastructure had been abused by the ‘criminal’ network.
“In the Netherlands, we are proud of the fact that we have a big affordable hosting industry which is very important for our economy but we don’t want these services to be used on a large scale for criminal activities,” he said.
“That is why we find it so important, together with the Dutch hosting industry, to act very diligently against abuse. So it was our pleasure to comply with a request from our Italian colleagues.”
Riccardo Croce, Head of Financial Cybercrime Investigation with the State Police in Italy, said that the “criminal group” (again, no precise explanation of which entities that phrase encompasses) had five million users in Italy alone, contributing to the 2,180,000 euros generated every month in illicit funds.
As highlighted earlier, the figures offered by various parties don’t add up, lack clarity, and as a result, appear to contradict each other.
In common with Sico’s speech, Creco’s was also presented through a translator. However, Creco was absolutely clear that the plan was to get to the “complex mapping of international technological infrastructure and to really hit them at the heart of the infrastructure.”
He spoke briefly about the complex technological network being used to transfer the actual streams but then appeared to touch on the importance of Xtream Codes once again, noting that entities in the chain were able to use a particular service to sell the product to the public.
“Our investigation was based on this, to go to the source level of this illegal signal, to disarticulate completely all servers in various European countries in which the infrastructure existed to replicate these signals,” Creco said.
“And, to hit for the first time, the company that was offering this very interesting support to the criminal infrastructure which put at its disposal these panels, network panels, the computer system through which the multitude of pay channels were able to be sold and resold through a chain of people called resellers throughout Europe so it could end up at the end-users.”
The paragraph above is possibly the clearest description of Xtream Codes’ function from someone in authority since yesterday’s raids. Creco’s statement not only separates the system from the actual provision of illegal streams but describes its function as most people understand it.
While many will argue that Xtream Codes was content-agnostic and capable of being put to plenty of legitimate uses, it’s clear that the authorities do not believe that was the intent at all. Through their statements, as confusing as they were at times, the message seems to be that Xtream Codes was perhaps the most important cog in the wheel.
There are many huge questions now being asked in the unlicensed IPTV community but perhaps the biggest is what information was held on the servers of Xtream Codes at the moment they were seized. They are a potential goldmine of information, not only relating to the many IPTV providers and sellers that used the service but also their customers. The worldwide fallout could be immense.
Importantly, however, Xtream Codes (as popular as it was) is not the only product out there capable of doing this kind of management job. So while the company’s days may already be over, others are already gearing up to fill in the gaps. Whether anyone will want to centralize their data with a vulnerable third-party again will be up for debate, however.
Millennium Films and its daughter companies have been rather active with their anti-piracy efforts in recent months.
The movie companies have targeted some of the largest piracy apps and websites in court with the ultimate goal of shutting them down.
Last week this resulted in a major success when the popular app CotoMovies decided to shut down. This was a direct result of legal pressure from Millennium Films which, in the process, brokered an unusual deal.
In addition to shutting down and issuing a public apology, CotoMovies confirmed that it will share user data with the movie companies. According to the movie company’s attorney, Kerry S. Culpepper, this data can “more than likely” be used to go after users of the streaming piracy app.
While no further details have emerged since, the CotoMovies aftermath continues. A few days ago Millennium Films obtained a subpoena which requires Cloudflare to hand over the personal details of people connected to several file-hosting and streaming sites.
These targets include Verystream and Streamango, two very popular hosting services with millions of users each, which were reportedly used by CotoMovies to serve videos. The other sites, Fembed, VShare, Vidlox, Flix555, Streamplay, and 0123movies, all have a CotoMovies connection as well.
“The above web domains have been identified as streaming copies of Owner’s motion picture(s) and supplying said streams to the piracy app ‘CotoMovies’,” Culpepper informed the Hawaii Federal Court.
Culpepper requests the name, address, telephone, email, payment records, and IP address log history for each associated customer. This will likely be used to conduct follow-up investigations.
The services and sites are informally accused of making Millennium’s copyrighted content available without permission. That said, it’s not clear whether the operators of these domains can be held directly liable. After all, most sites rely on user-uploaded content.
Millennium, however, seems determined to keep digging for more information, perhaps hoping that more apps and services will fold.
“Millennium greatly values their and other’s intellectual property. Millennium cannot keep making new movies if people steal Millennium’s movies through apps like these,” Millennium Media co-president Jonathan Yunger informed TorrentFreak last week, following the CotoMovies shutdown.
A copy of the subpoena directed at Cloudflare is available here (pdf).
Reports of legal action and law enforcement activities against IPTV services and providers are a regular occurrence but news coming out of Italy this morning is particularly interesting.
According to the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), a law enforcement agency under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, a huge operation is underway to target and dismantle the software service known as Xtream Codes.
What makes the case unusual is that Xtream Codes isn’t an IPTV provider as such. Usually operating from Xtream-codes.com, the company behind the software/system offers a comprehensive package that allows people to manage their own IPTV reselling service and its customers.
The system is subscription-based, starting at around 15 euros per month and running to 59 euros per month for the powerful “all-in-one” solution.
The Guardia di Finanza say that 100 officers from its Special Unit for the Protection of Privacy and Technological Fraud (NSPFT) are taking part in the operation to take Xtream Codes down.
Early reports suggest that the system has been “seized”, allegedly preventing 700,000 users from accessing the platform. Xtream Codes itself recently reported having more than 5,000 clients servicing in excess of 50,000,000 end clients.
The Italian police unit is describing Xtream Codes as an international criminal group that’s being targeted not only in Italy but with simultaneous searches in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Greece and Bulgaria.
Xtream Codes is registered as a company in Bulgaria, has a local VAT number, and lists an address in Petrich for its offices. According to its now-disappeared website, it was founded by two students. Police say that 25 “managers” have been identified but there’s no specific mention of any arrests.
Disruption is already being reported by some IPTV sellers utilizing the Xtream Codes system. Authorities in Italy are set to provide more information on the operation this morning so we’ll update this article as more news comes in.
These examples show that easyDNS is no stranger to legal pressure, but a recent request from a German law firm was a bit over the top, even by easyDNS’ standards.
The company recently received a copyright notice from the German law firm Fechner Legal, ordering easyDNS to take down a URL of one of its clients who allegedly posted a copyright-infringing image. In addition, the notice came with a settlement offer, urging the registrar to pay €1,481 in damages and fees.
The letter, which was initially sent to the wrong email address years ago, came through the postal mail. EasyDNS has no plans to pay up or expose its customer, as the law firm requested. However, it did send a reply asking for a digital copy so it could be forwarded to its customer, as is standard practice.
Instead of sending over the requested digital copy, the law firm replied with a threat. Citing German jurisprudence, attorney Robert Fechner urged easyDNS to hand over the name and email address of the allegedly-infringing customer, or else.
The” or else,” in this case, would come in the form of a criminal complaint.
“If you fail to comply with the law, further proceedings will be to file a criminal complaint against you in order to acquire this information on the basis of § 14 II TMG. In this case, additional damages due to your uncooperative and unlawful behavior will be claimed.” Fechner wrote.
Despite the threat of a criminal complaint, easyDNS still doesn’t plan to hand over the name and email address of its customer. The company’s CEO stresses that it only complies with the law of the country where it’s incorporated, which is Canada.
Simply handing over personal information might violate Canadian privacy law, easyDNS stresses. This means that, if Fechner Legal wants the personal information of the customer in question, it has to obtain a valid court order, subpoena or warrant in the Province of Ontario.
“It’s almost as if Herr Fechner doesn’t understand that Canada is a completely different country than Germany, and thus businesses operating here are subject to Canadian, not German law,” Jeftovic notes.
“We have further advised Herr Fechner that both easyDNS and our lawyers take a dim view of being threatened with a criminal complaint over something like this and we wonder out loud if the German bar association would have anything to say about one of their own abusing their position and misrepresenting the law in this manner,” he adds.
In any case, it’s clear that as a third-party registrar, easyDNS isn’t going to take any action without a proper court order. This means that the allegedly infringing URL remains online for now, just like The Pirate Bay.
Sitting in the heart of Europe geographically but outside the European Union politically, Switzerland is largely free to make its own legislation.
On the copyright front, this has brought the country out of line with standards adopted by its neighbors, something that has drawn criticism from entertainment industry companies, particularly those in the United States.
In 2017, proposals to amend the country’s copyright laws were drafted but they failed to fully address key complaints from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) made on behalf of rightsholders.
A major complaint is that the country’s private copying exception shouldn’t apply to content obtained from illegal sources, i.e pirate copies of movies circulating on peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent. The USTR also had issues with the current liability framework for sites and hosting services that facilitate and profit from piracy.
After a long trip through the corridors of power, Switzerland’s National Council adopted amendments to copyright law Monday but at first view, there seems little to please the United States.
First up, regular citizens who download copyrighted content from illegal sources will not be criminalized. This means that those who obtain copies of the latest movies from the Internet, for example, will be able to continue doing so without fear of reprisals. Uploading has always been outlawed and that aspect has not changed.
Second, the drive to have pirate site-blocking introduced into Swiss law has been rejected. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, where the practice is widespread and supported by EU law, ISPs will not be required to block ‘pirate’ platforms as some copyright holders had demanded.
On the hosting and liability front, there will be changes, but at this early stage, it’s unclear how that will play out on the ground.
SwissInfo reports that the reforms will force local hosting providers to remove illegal content from their servers but adds that parliament rejected rules that would compel online platforms to check whether uploaded content is copyrighted.
A “take-down-stay-down” system had been championed (which would presumably require content to be checked against previous takedowns) but elsewhere it’s claimed that the new legal framework “favors self-regulation” to fight piracy at the hosting level.
While an extension from 50 to 70 years copyright protection for musical and photographic works will be welcomed by copyright holders, the failure to outlaw downloading of pirated content for personal use will be absolutely unacceptable to the United States and the MPAA in particular.
Pirate site blockades are gradually spreading across the globe. Thus far, Canada hasn’t joined the movement but that’s something Bell, Rogers, and Groupe TVA hope to change.
In June, the three companies filed a lawsuit against the operators of a ‘pirate’ IPTV service operating from the domain names GoldTV.ca and GoldTV.biz. The companies argued that the service provides access to their TV content without licenses or authorization.
Among other things, the rightsholders requested an interim injunction to stop the operators, who remain unidentified, from continuing to offer the allegedly-infringing IPTV service. This was granted last month, but despite the order, some of the infrastructures remained available.
This resulted in a new request from the media giants, which could potentially lead to the first-ever pirate site blocking order in Canada. Specifically, the companies are calling for an interlocutory injunction order that would require several Canadian ISPs to block GoldTV domain names and IP-addresses.
The request was discussed in Federal Court last Thursday and Friday. Since Rogers and Bell are also ISPs, the companies are also listed as respondents. Obviously, they didn’t object to their own demands. Similarly, there are no objections from Shaw, Eastlink, Fido, SaskTel, Telus, and Videotron either.
With input from some of the Internet providers, the rightsholders drafted a blocking order that they hope to have approved by the Federal Court. It lists several domain names and IP-addresses of the pirate IPTV service and allows for more to be added.
The blocking technology that’s described in the order is fairly straightforward. Domain names would have to be targeted through DNS blocking or re-routing, and non-shared IP-addresses would have to be blocked or re-routed as well. All ISPs would be permitted to establish their preferred methods, as long as they are effective.
Thus far there hasn’t been much opposition from ISPs. The only company that substantially objects to the proposed site-blocking scheme is TekSavvy.
In written comments to the Court, the ISP points out that the request comes at a curious time as Canadian lawmakers are reviewing the appropriateness of such measures, as part of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review. Issuing a precedential injunction before this review is complete would be inappropriate, TekSavvy argues.
Aside from leap-frogging the ongoing legislative process, the ISP also points out that the site-blocking measures violate net neutrality.
“The plaintiffs seek this Court’s assistance to implement a draconian remedy that runs directly counter to the legislatively established principle of net neutrality,” TekSavvy notes in its written comments.
The ISP doesn’t believe that the blocking measures will be very effective either. There are plenty of workarounds available, for example. The company further notes that it’s unclear whether GoldTV causes any harm and adds that the rightsholders have plenty of other options to go after the service.
For example, they could target the sites through less invasive measures. By contacting its payment provider or hosting company, for example, or going after the Canadian domain name registry.
“[The plaintiffs] ask this Court to deputize TekSavvy and other ISPs to protect the plaintiffs’ profits against some hypothetical (and unknowable) erosion from GoldTV’s services, yet they have not taken some of the most basic self-help steps open to them,” TekSavvy notes.
Overall, the ISP sees website blocking as a draconian measure. While it seems fairly small and directed at a small service that’s no longer widely available, Teksavvy fears that granting the order will open the floodgates to much broader blocking requests.
“If the plaintiffs were successful in obtaining a site-blocking order in this case, there is no question that they would use it as a precedent to obtain other site-blocking orders, whether in respect of copyright infringement or otherwise.”
“TekSavvy could be faced with hundreds and even thousands of websites to block and monitor, exponentially increasing the costs of operating and maintaining a site-blocking system and overwhelming TekSavvy’s capacity,” the company adds.
As such, Teksavvy asks the Federal Court to dismiss the motion. It’s the only third-party company that has done so. Fellow ISP Distributel also objected to the proposed language in the motion, but its complaint only deals with how ISPs are compensated for their efforts.
The Wire Report notes that the Federal Court gave all parties until Wednesday to come to an agreement on the language of the proposed order. It’s clear, however, that TekSavvy is not coming aboard.
After the hearings, the Federal Court will eventually have to decide whether to grant the blocking order or not. That’s expected to take a few more weeks.
A copy of the proposed blocking order, which may be changed going forward, is available here (pdf). TekSavvy’s written responses are available here (pdf) and a copy of the affidavit of Paul Stewart, TekSavvy’s VP of Technology, can be found here (pdf).
Thousands of retailers around the world sell Android-based set-top devices that are able to stream Netflix and other services to customers’ homes.
However, an intriguing lawsuit filed in Canada last week alleges that employees at some companies went too far with their sales promotion pitches by pushing the products for infringing purposes while advising potential buyers on how to pirate content with them.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal Court September 11 by Super Channel owner Allarco Entertainment, targets Staples Canada, Best Buy Canada, London Drugs, Canada Computers, several related companies and up to 50,000 ‘John Doe’ customers.
Allarco Entertainment alleges that one or more of the retailers and their staff (collectively described as “4Stores”) promoted, encouraged, or instructed prospective buyers of Internet streaming devices on how to use and/or modify them to obtain copyright-infringing content. As a result, the devices are described as “Pirate Devices” throughout the lawsuit.
On a website promoting the case, Allarco has published a video as part of its 19-month-long “4 Stores Investigation” which claims to show employees at the defendant companies selling “pirate devices” in a way that contravenes several aspects of local law.
The company says it has 100 hours of undercover recordings to back up its claims. The short video currently available has recordings of alleged staff members advising users to install Kodi, use Google to find Kodi “setup videos”, or even visit other sellers operating elsewhere that will configure the devices for piracy.
Super Channel CEO Don McDonald told CBC that his company showed the video to the four retailers in the spring but that didn’t bring the alleged behavior to an end.
“I wanted them to be step up and be a champion in changing the culture. They didn’t see the light,” he said. “We want the stores to stop. We want the stores to say, ‘Hey this is wrong’.”
While the lawsuit continually describes the set-top boxes as “Piracy Devices” – some of which had Kodi pre-installed – there’s no information in the lawsuit or accompanying video that specifically states that any had dedicated piracy software or services embedded at the point of sale.
That important point will probably become evident as the lawsuit progresses but the complaint does note that “one or more” defendants breached the Copyright Act by “showing pirated programming to customers in their stores.”
The lawsuit itself goes straight for the jugular, reading not dissimilar to many others that have previously targeted sellers of unambiguous dedicated ‘pirate’ devices or services.
“The devices which are the subject of this action have been programmed to steal programming i.e. view the Plaintiffs Programming without authorization and without paying for it,” the complaint reads.
“The 4Stores Defendants or one or more of them have offered for sale, sold, leased and continue to sell or lease Pirate Devices to John Doe Customers and advised, educated, counseled, encouraged, directed, induced, enabled and authorized John Doe Customers to achieve, download, install and operate services that result in the operation of the Pirate Devices and/or that enable and allow the John Doe Customers to access the Infringing Content.”
The complaint, which also references up to 50,000 ‘John Doe’ customers as defendants, states that the 4Stores know their identities and as such, they will “be identified and added as identified parties following disclosure.” Allarco is seeking an order to have these customers served by mail.
The TV company states that the alleged actions of 4Stores detailed above were designed to “encourage and increase” the sale of ‘Pirate Devices’, which would not have been sold had it not been for the “education” provided by the 4Stores staff. When combined, this created or contributed to a culture of “widespread copyright infringement” causing damage to the plaintiff.
The complaint states that the customers of 4Stores who bought such devices and accessed infringing content breached the Copyright Act. At this stage, however, there’s no information that any evidence has been gathered to prove that happened. Nevertheless, the complaint alleges Contributory Infringement by 4Stores as a result of the companies inducing customers to infringe.
Allarco further claims that the 4Stores defendants sold devices that are “designed or produced primarily for the purposes of circumventing a technological protection measure”, and/or “the uses or purposes of which are not commercially significant other than when used for the purposes of circumventing a technological protection measure.”
Finally, there are additional claims that the defendants breached the Radiocommunication Act, Trademark Act (also with damage to goodwill), engaged in intentional interference with business, unjust enrichment, and counseling to commit an offense.
In summary, Allarco is demanding interim, interlocutory, and permanent injunctions including, but not limited to, preventing the defendants from “communicating or facilitating the communication” of its works without permission, including by “configuring, advertising, offering for sale or selling Pirate Devices.”
It also wants the Court to issue a ban on the 4Stores from “teaching, inducing, coaching or demonstrating to others including their own staff, friends and families how to steal or pirate the Plaintiff’s Works.”
The Allarco Entertainment / Super Channel complaint can be found here (pdf)
The report provides an overview of the latest anti-piracy achievements of copyright holders and also signals some emerging threats. It seems to be written mostly based on input from large rightsholders, which can make it a bit one-sided.
The overall theme is that piracy and counterfeiting remain a major problem and that, as a “world class IP enforcement regime,” the UK takes a leading role in the world to tackle it going forward.
A few days ago we reported on an exemplary section from the report where the Premier League highlighted its key successes. The full document is filled with similar examples and is worth a read, but there is one issue that stood out which we would like to highlight separately.
In the section where the results of PRS for Music, the UK’s leading collection society, are summarized there is a hint of self-reflection. As reported in the past, there were signs that BitTorrent piracy is increasing again, and according to the UK Government’s report, the industry may be to blame.
Apparently, piracy traffic may be rising again because the content that’s being offered on legal platforms is becoming more and more fragmented.
In other words, as more legal services have exclusive releases, it’s harder for people to get everything they want in one place. Instead of signing up for paid subscriptions at a handful of services, these people could then turn back to piracy.
Or as the Annual IP crime and enforcement report puts it:
“There also appears to be a resurgence in torrent traffic, notwithstanding the apparent demise of peer-to-peer file sharing a few years ago. A likely reason for this is the fact that more legitimate platforms are hosting exclusive content and subscribers may not necessarily have access to all the content they want to consume.”
The paragraph above is listed in the PRS section of the report which leads us to believe that it comes directly from the music group. We reached out to PRS to find out more but the organization said that it couldn’t comment on it. A subsequent request to clarify whether this is PRS’s position returned a “no comment” as well.
Again, we should stress that the fragmentation comment is just a tiny quote from a 132-page report. It doesn’t reflect the general theme that piracy needs to be addressed through comprehensive and multi-faceted enforcement strategies. However, at least there appears to be some room for self-reflection.
This isn’t the first time that increased fragmentation has been mentioned as a potential problem, but these type of comments generally don’t originate from governments or rightsholders.
Exclusive releases are particularly prevalent in the video industry today, where there’s a myriad of exclusive streaming services. How this will affect overall piracy rates in the years to come remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not something that can be easily ignored.
While the TV licensing system in the UK is viewed as an unpopular tax by many citizens, millions hand over money every year in order to receive broadcasts into their homes.
For the sum of £154.50 for a color TV license and £52 for a black and white equivalent, residents can potentially obtain access to dozens of channels via satellite (Freesat) or antenna (Freeview), none of which come with a subscription charge. In fact, those who don’t pay the license fee can still receive them, just not entirely legally.
Of course, those subscribing to a ‘pirate’ IPTV provider gain access to thousands of channels, including all the premium channels that would otherwise add hundreds of pounds of costs to the average bill.
There’s no doubt that gaining access to Sky’s premium offerings for next to nothing is an attractive proposition for customers. However, a UK-based IPTV provider informs TorrentFreak that these aren’t always the most popular channels with his subscribers.
Perhaps surprisingly, when looking at the Top 10 most-watched channels on the service, BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all get a prominent position. Every single one is not only available for free (license permitting) via satellite or antenna but also available via the Internet for UK residents.
TF was able to review data from the IPTV provider’s panel which listed the service’s most popular streams from a few weeks ago. It showed that the most-viewed channel was ITV HD with just over 16%, with BBC1 HD in second place with close to 13%. National Geographic, a non-free to air channel, sat in third with just under 10%, closely followed by free to air Channel 4 HD.
Of the top 12 most popular channels listed in a provided chart, six are already free to air – ITV, BBC1 One, Channel 4, BBC Two, 4seven, Channel 5, ITV2, E4, Quest Red, and Quest. So why the inflated interest in channels already covered by a TV license and free-to-air?
The IPTV provider said it polled some customers, with a number of interesting reasons reportedly coming up, most of which appear to center around service-related issues. Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, users of Freeview complained about not being able to get a good enough signal.
The digital Freeview service is supposedly available to 98% of the population but anecdotal evidence suggests that many are left with a poor signal, a reduced channel offering, picture break up, or not being able to receive the service at all.
Freesat (satellite) users can usually overcome most of these issues but many televisions don’t come with an appropriate tuner and in all cases, an external satellite dish must be installed, which presents another barrier to entry.
IPTV services, on the other hand, require a broadband connection and a cheap subscription, no external equipment (satellite dishes, antenna, or tuners) required.
It could be countered that several of the main BBC channels can be acquired via the Internet using the BBC iPlayer, which unquestionably provides a first-class service. However, online offerings from ITV (ITV Hub), Channel 4 (All 4), and Channel 5 (My5) only come in SD quality and in some cases, that’s a best-case scenario.
Most of the rest of the channels in the ‘free’ range (outside the regular TV license fee) have no online offer at all but an IPTV service can provide them all, in most cases in HD quality.
Only adding to the hassle of going legal is the fact that most if not all of the above channels’ online offerings now require registration, meaning that users have to have accounts with them all to receive them on a TV. On the other side, a subscription with an IPTV provider requires a single sign-up.
According to the provider, users don’t like to have accounts with all of these different official suppliers and they don’t enjoy the low-quality images on offer from their online portals, even if they are free to access. They also prefer the flexibility of being able to watch channels on any device they like, rather than being restricted to the platforms supported by various providers.
A UK user with experience of all of the systems above confirmed that while having Freeview or Freesat is a nice option, switching from app to app to receive other channels on various devices is a sub-standard experience when compared to that offered by unlicensed providers. He also questioned whether “any harm was being done” to the legitimate providers by accessing their channels from an IPTV provider.
“I pay my license for the BBC and I don’t use up any of their Internet [bandwidth]. I watch all the adverts on everything else same as everyone. Where’s the negative, I don’t see any?” he said.
In common with the provider we spoke with, the TV viewer pointed out that having everything in one place (a single IPTV subscription) is much more convenient than having to switch around various sources, even if that means paying a few pounds per month.
So while some people clearly latch on to unlicensed IPTV subscriptions for premium content usually offered by companies such as Sky, it seems that at least, in this case, convenience is also playing a big factor.
Tor is an anonymity tool used by millions of people. Dubbed the “Onion Router”, it operates by sending traffic through various nodes, after which it enters the public Internet again.
This setup makes the source of the traffic pretty much impossible to trace. However, it also means that people who operate a Tor exit node have their IP-address associated with a lot of traffic they’re not the source of.
When pirates use Tor, for example, it will appear as if the copyright-infringing activity comes from the exit node address. While the operators are generally aware of this, recent history has shown that his can lead to serious liability issues.
This is what Oregon resident John Huszar found out the hard way.
Back in 2015, the company behind the movie Dallas Buyers Club filed a federal lawsuit against the IP-address 188.8.131.52. A few months later, this complaint was amended to list “Integrity Computer Services” as the defendant, and in 2016, it was eventually replaced with the company’s owner, John Huszar.
While Huszar denied that he personally downloaded the film, there was a problem. Early on in the case, the filmmakers served a request for admissions, asking the defendant to respond to several statements. This request remained unanswered, which was a mistake, as it typically means that the court can then assume the statements are true.
Dallas Buyers Club used this to its advantage. Among other things, the admissions stated that Huszar unlawfully distributed a copy of the Dallas Buyers Club movie, which seemed to open the door to a substantial financial claim.
That would be true in most cases, but Huszar is not the only one who made a crucial error – Dallas Buyers Club did the same. As noted by US District Judge Michael Simon, earlier this year, Huszar wasn’t yet a named defendant when the filmmakers issued their request for admissions.
Following this conclusion, Judge Simon sent the case back to Magistrate Judge John Acosta, who this week issued his report and recommendations on the motions for summary judgment from both the plaintiff and the defendant.
First up is the film company, which requested a summary judgment finding that Huszar is guilty of copyright infringement. This request relied pretty much exclusively on the admissions which are no longer valid. As such, the motion was denied.
“It is evident Dallas’s motion was reliant on Huszar’s admissions. Judge Simon’s withdrawal of the deemed admissions based on Huszar’s failure to respond to Dallas’s requests for admissions was fatal to Dallas’s motion,” Magistrate Judge Acosta writes in his recommendation.
While this is great news for the defendant, there was a disappointment as well. Huszar also requested summary judgment, ruling that he is not liable. After a careful review, Judge Acosta denied this too.
Among other things, Huszar claimed that he was shielded by the DMCA because he was acting as an ISP. However, Judge Acosta notes that to benefit from such protections, he has to show that he’s eligible for such immunity. This includes having a repeat infringer policy, of which the court found no evidence.
Huszar further argued that the monitoring software used by the filmmakers was unreliable. While the defense provided an expert report to back this up, Dallas Buyers Club submitted an opposing report, which leads Judge Acosta to the conclusion that summary judgment based on the reliability of the evidence is not appropriate.
This means that after a battle of almost five years in court, the case can still go either way. Judge Acosta’s recommendations are not the final judgments. They will be referred to a District Judge who has the final say.
After that, the case will likely move to trial. If that the case, it will be up to a Jury to decide whether the Tor exit node operator is guilty or not.
A copy of Magistrate Judge John Acosta’s findings and recommendations is available here (pdf).
A little while back, Bijan Stephen over at The Verge published a well-received piece on the topic of Plex, the popular media server software. It’s well worth a read for those who aren’t already familiar with this incredibly sleek tool.
For those in need of a quick summary, Plex comes in two parts. A server component that does all the hard work behind the scenes on the host computer and a client, which can be typically run on a smart TV, Firestick-like device, tablet, phone or indeed another computer. The latter is used to access the former.
In brief (and from a video consumption perspective) people can dump all of their properly named movies and TV shows into a folder, adjust a few settings, wait a minute or three and have this uninspiring bleak landscape…
….transformed into something like this:
Users of software like Popcorn Time or Showbox will probably wonder what all the fuss is about – but that’s only if they haven’t used Plex.
When properly configured (and it isn’t hard) its search and curation features blow Netflix’s out of the water. Search by genre, actor, director, running time – almost anything is possible. As a bonus, Plex has one of the most beautiful interfaces ever made for media consumption.
What Plex doesn’t have, when people first install it, is any movie or TV show content in its library – especially of the kind shown above. The company behind Plex is completely above board, providing a tool that’s no more responsible for piracy than Windows or Android. Nevertheless, plenty of users build their own self-hosted Netflix-beaters with Plex, sometimes with the help of others.
The article in The Verge explains how some Plex users solve this problem by teaming up with other Plex users to share their own libraries. It a system that operates in a manner not dissimilar to the way smaller BBS admins of yesteryear traded and obtained content for their own platforms.
As The Verge put it, “as streaming offerings become more expensive and convoluted, people are setting up their own smaller, more intimate platforms.” And indeed they are, but there’s more to this rodeo.
There is a side to Plex use (copyright holders and indeed Plex itself will argue ‘abuse’) that isn’t small at all. It doesn’t involve sharing any of your own content either, it’s a simple case of handing over a few dollars, euros, or pounds and suddenly everything is a click away.
If one knows where to look, so-called P4S (Plex For Share) services are available that make Netflix’s multi-billion dollar offering look like a second-class citizen. And after handing over the cash or requesting a free trial, users can be accessing huge – HUGE – libraries of content in a matter of minutes.
The smaller and cheaper shares (a few hundred movies and TV shows, a handful of simultaneous users) are probably being run on home connections. The bigger and more expensive ones are entirely more professional, offering thousands of video files to many concurrent users.
Just as an example, one particular service (for less than $10) per month, lists more than 11,000 movies in HD and above (including 4K) plus 2,000 TV shows. Others prefer to list content in terabytes, with more than 200TB not being particularly uncommon. These big boys utilize CDNs to ensure content is delivered seamlessly to subscribers, wherever they may be.
The big deal here isn’t just the volume of content available, it’s the nature and breadth. Given that professional P4S offers don’t have politics to deal with or business models to protect, the movies on offer range from old classics to the very latest blockbusters. And Friends will not be removed because somebody offered a better deal.
The world of Plex shares is nothing new and for those thinking that their existence should be kept under the radar, it’s already too late. Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN, which is affiliated with Hollywood studios, has already taken action against people offering these services to the public. The cat is well and truly out of the bag, it’s just a question of how far it will run.
But while Plex might be a pirate’s dream, the company is doing some very interesting things to ensure that rightsholders get in on the act. Late last month, Plex announced it had struck a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution to supply free, ad-supported movies and TV shows to Plex users.
The company reportedly has plans for its software to become a “one-stop-shop” for content and has grand plans to begin reselling subscription content in 2020 along with video on demand products. This opens up the possibility of introducing pirates to premium products in an interface they are already very familiar with.
While some will naturally object, this could be clever bridge-building in action. Big content companies would never try to tempt pirates by putting movies or TV shows on The Pirate Bay, for example, but Plex and the company behind it are so neutral, politics can be kept to a minimum. Let’s see how it plays out, things could get very interesting.
The popularity of pirated comics represents a thorn in the side to many publishers. Manga publishers, in particular, are faced with a constant stream of infringing copies.
Over the past year, we have seen some enforcement actions on this front.
For example, the Japanese Government jumped in and created a special task force to investigate the pirate site Mangamura, which shut down last year. Since then, several operators and uploaders have been prosecuted.
However, when Mangamura went offline, many other sites were more than happy to take its place. This includes Hoshinoromi.org, which is particularly popular in Japan but does well outside its borders too.
Hoshinoromi positioned itself as a successor to Mangamura and managed to build a rather impressive library of content in just a few months. According to its own stats from late July, it has 93,000 volumes or books in its archive, good for millions of pages.
Faced with the rapid rise of the site, a group of some of Japan’s largest manga publishers is now taking legal action. In a complaint filed at a federal court in New York, Shueisha, Kadowaka, Kodansha, and Shogakukan, accuse the site of blatant copyright infringement.
“This case is about willful and massive infringement of the Publishers’ manga,” they write. “Hoshinoromi is a pirate website operating at www.hoshinoromi.org, which organizes, promotes, and distributes unauthorized copies of the Publishers’ manga on a massive scale.”
New York seems an odd choice as publishers are all from Japan and the website is also in Japanese. However, the companies note that Hoshinoromi uses a variety of US-based companies to conduct its business and hide the operators’ identities.
“Cloudflare caches infringing content from both Hoshinoromi.org and the backend server, zakayloader.org (previously, worldjobproject.org). Cloudflare provides a reverse proxy to mask the server locations and operators,” the publishers write.
Other US-based outfits used by the site are Twitter and Gab, the publishers explain, adding that the site itself is freely available to American visitors as well.
Hoshinoromi allegedly used Twitter to advertise the site, making it clear that it was aware of the potential negative impact it has on legitimate sales.
“When the old Manga Village closed, sales of manga went up, so the new Manga Village was revived, and profits will lower again!!!! What countermeasures are you going to take this time??,” the site previously wrote (translated) on its now-suspended Twitter account.
The publishers add that, while the site is open about its pirating activities, it apparently doesn’t want other people to ‘steal’ from them. According to the complaint, it is actively blocking outsiders from ‘exploiting’ the site’s collection of pirated files.
“Hoshinoromi has gone to great lengths to block competitor pirates and investigators from copying images in bulk. The operators of the site have no problem stealing and profiting from the Publishers’ manga, but they implement countermeasures to ensure that others do not do the same to them,” the publishers complain.
With the lawsuit, the publishers hope to unveil the site’s operators and be compensated for the damages they have suffered. They list a total of 41 works, which means that the theoretical statutory damages amount runs in the millions.
While it’s not specifically mentioned, another goal of the lawsuit may be to urge or compel third-party intermediaries to take action. Cloudflare is specifically mentioned as a caching service, and the publishers make it clear that they would like to see all copies of their works removed from the company’s servers.
A copy of the complaint filed by Shueisha, Kadowaka, Kodansha, and Shogakukan is available here (pdf).
More recently, however, the tide began to turn. This year alone, Internet providers in several countries, including Ecuador and Peru, have been ordered to block the site. Last Friday, a court in Denmark did the same.
The Danish case was handled by the local anti-piracy group RettighedsAlliancen, which worked in tandem with the Spanish Football League ‘La Liga‘. Earlier this year, they already managed to get blocking orders against nine other websites, but the court postponed a ruling on Rojadirecta.
The reason for the delay was unusual. Contrary to pretty much every other website, Rojadirecta put up a defense. Among other things, the site argued that it’s not actively involved in selecting streaming links, as this happens automatically, and that many links actually point to authorized content.
La Liga, however, countered that some of its content was definitely linked without permission, adding that Rojadirecta profits from facilitating copyright infringement. As such, it requested an injunction ordering local ISP Telenor to block the site.
Telenor, which is the actual defendant, in this case, didn’t present any arguments.
After reviewing the positions of La Liga and Rojadirecta, the court sided with the former. In its ruling late last week, the Court of Frederiksberg ordered Telenor to block the site. As is common in Denmark, this means that other ISPs will voluntarily follow suit.
RettighedsAlliancen CEO Maria Fredenslund is happy with the outcome. It confirms that the blocking process is effective, she says, even when a targeted site puts up a defense.
“Rojadirecta appeared in court and presented a defense but was convicted and blocked nonetheless – just like other illegal services. It stands to confirm that the blocking system works even if it is challenged, and of course we are very pleased with this,” Fredenslund says.
Rojadirecta, on the other hand, is disappointed. A spokesperson informs TorrentFreak that it respects the outcome of the court proceeding. However, it is not happy with how RettighedsAlliancen and La Liga are selling it to the public.
The site stresses that there is no ‘conviction’ of Rojadirecta. The case was a matter between the rightsholders and an ISP. The burden of proof in these cases is relatively low as the claimant only has to show that it’s likely that an infringement occurred, the site’s spokesperson notes.
“The court has thus in the case merely made the assessment that RettighedsAlliancen has proven it likely that there have been illegal links at Rojadirecta and that the formal requirements for issuing a blocking injunction against the ISP were considered fulfilled,” Rojadirecta tells us.
Rojadirecta further notes that it didn’t get much advance notice – Rettighedsalliancen informed the site little over a week before the hearing was scheduled.
While the streaming link site managed to have a postponement put in place, it never had the chance to participate in an oral hearing. Instead, Rojadirecta was directed to submit its defense on paper.
It’s clear that Rojadirecta is not pleased with the blockade and the site is still deliberating whether it will file an appeal.
Aside from facing yet another ISP blockade, the damage for Rojadirecta as a business is minimal. The site has a relatively small userbase in Denmark, and since it wasn’t a defendant in the lawsuit, there are no damages that have to be paid.
That could change if RettighedsAlliancen and La Liga file a case against the site directly, to decide whether it’s indeed operating illegally or not. We asked RettighedsAlliancen whether this was an option, but the group informed us that it has no comment on that for now.
Rojadirecta is clear though. If RettighedsAlliancen and La Liga want the conviction they already claim they have, they need to fight the case on its merits.
For now, however, the court found that there is enough ground to have Rojadirecta blocked in Denmark. According to local regulations the preliminary ruling will have to be followed up by a case of the merits. However, the targeted ISP may waive this, after which the order becomes permanent.
A copy of the order from the Court of Frederiksberg, obtained by TorrentFreak, is available here (pdf).
One of the targeted apps was CotoMovies, a piece of software that provides unlimited access to pirated copies of movies and TV-shows, free of charge.
The legal pressure came from the makers of the action movie “Hellboy” and clearly had Tweakbox worried. However, they were not the only ones under the spotlight. Soon after our article was published CotoMovies announced that it would shut down.
Initially not much was known about the reason for this abrupt decision, although legal trouble seemed likely. Now, a few days later, we can indeed confirm that CotoMovies was urged to shut down by the makers of the films “Hellboy” and “Angel Has Fallen”.
A source close to the fire informs TorrentFreak that both parties negotiated a possible ‘settlement’. While we can’t confirm that any damages were paid, CotoMovies is now offering a public apology to the filmmakers on its homepage.
“I want to express my sincere regret to the owners of the motion pictures Hellboy and Angel Has Fallen as well as all rights holders for inducing and contributing to copyright infringements by my operation of the app CotoMovies,” the operator writes.
The CotoMovies operator notes that he or she learned from the “stressful legal experience” and now understands what damage movie piracy apps can cause. Going forward, the app’s creator promises not to infringe on any copyrights while urging the app’s users to do the same.
Needless to say, many users are disappointed to see their favorite app going offline. However, CotoMovies makes another statement that may be even more concerning. Apparently, the app’s creator agreed to transfer user data to the filmmakers.
“I now plan to fully respect intellectual property laws and strongly urge those who used my app to use legal apps to watch movies. To this end, I have agreed to transfer to counsel for the rights holders user data and communications under my possession and control so that they can enforce their valuable intellectual property,” CotoMovies writes.
It’s not immediately clear what type of user data the app retained but the filmmakers plan to target some. The makers of “Hellboy” and “Angel Has Fallen” have previously targeted individual pirates in court, but they want to set an example with streamers as well.
TorrentFreak reached out to Kerry S. Culpepper, the attorney of the two movie companies to, find out more about their plans.
“I am happy that the app operator was willing to take responsibility for her/his actions, apologize and take this app down. This is something you don’t see too much of lately – people taking responsibility for their actions,” Culpepper said.
While the lawyer confirmed that they “more than likely” intend to go after CotoMovies users, Culpepper declined to comment on what type of data they have in their possession.
What’s crystal clear, however, is that the movie companies’ legal pressure tactic is paying off.
Jonathan Yunger, co-president of Millennium Media, which is the parent company of the movie companies that went after CotoMovies, is pleased with the progress they’ve made.
“Millennium greatly values their and other’s intellectual property. Millennium cannot keep making new movies if people steal Millennium’s movies through apps like these,” Yunger informed TorrentFreak.
Every single week, Internet users in the United States take to Reddit and other discussion forums seeking advice about copyright infringement notices.
Whether the claims against them are true is often hard to assess, but many speak of receiving notices from their ISP which state that a third-party has caught them torrenting something they shouldn’t – usually movies, TV shows, or music.
While any and all of them are able to speak directly to their ISP to find out what the notices are all about and what the consequences might be, many seem confused. Are they going to be sued, for example, or perhaps their Internet might get suspended or cut off completely?
Most advice dished out by fellow internet users is (and I’m paraphrasing), “Dumbass – use a VPN”, but while that comprehensively solves the problem, it doesn’t answer the big questions.
A common topic is how many notices a customer can receive from their ISP before things get serious. One might think this basic information would be easy to find but despite most major ISPs in the US stating that they don’t allow infringement and there could be consequences for receiving multiple complaints, more often than not their information pages aren’t specific.
So, in an effort to cut through all the jargon and put all the relevant information into one article, on August 27 we approached several of the major ISPs in the United States – Comcast, AT&T, Charter/Spectrum, Verizon, and CenturyLink – with a list of questions, detailed below;
Your company forwards copyright complaints from rightsholders, based on their claims. How many complaints can a subscriber have made against their account before some action is taken by you, beyond simply forwarding the notice to the subscriber?
What is the nature of that action, i.e requiring to confirm receipt of the notice, taking a copyright lesson, promising not to infringe again, etc?
Once this stage has been completed, how many more complaints against an account will trigger any subsequent action, i.e a more serious warning, warning that an account could be suspended etc?
At what point would a customer with multiple complaints against their account be considered a ‘repeat infringer’?
At what point could an account holder expect a temporary account suspension? At this point, how would that suspension be lifted?
At what point could an account holder expect a complete termination of his or her service?
In respect of points 5 and 6, is the number of complaints a deciding factor or does a subscriber’s negative or positive responses and actions in respect of your efforts to prevent infringement also play a part?
Are you able to confirm that accounts have been temporarily suspended for repeat infringement and if so, how many?
Are you able to confirm that accounts have been permanently shut down for repeat infringement and if so, how many?
We told the ISPs exactly why we were asking these questions and indicated that a response within seven days would guarantee their inclusion in this article. We extended the deadline to two weeks and beyond but not a single company listed above responded to any of our questions.
In fact, none even acknowledged receipt of our initial email, despite one ISP requiring us to send emails to at least three people involved in their media communications team. It seems fairly clear this potato is simply too hot to pick up.
That being said, we thought we should press on with at least trying to help subscribers.
There are usually very few valid excuses for receiving multiple copyright infringement complaints. Some do exist, of course, but not knowing the precise mechanism for being dealt with under various ISPs’ ‘repeat infringer’ rulesets only makes matters worse.
What we can do here is give relevant snippets/quotes from each ISP’s website and link to the page(s) in question, with a comment here and there. In no particular order:
AT&T: In accordance with the DMCA and other applicable laws, AT&T maintains a policy that provides for the termination of IP Services, under appropriate circumstances, if Customers are found to be a repeat infringer and/or if Customers’ IP Services are used repeatedly for infringement (the ‘Repeat Infringer Policy’). AT&T may terminate IP Services at any time with or without notice to Customers.
AT&T has no obligation to investigate possible copyright infringements with respect to materials transmitted by Customer or any other users of the IP Services. However, AT&T will process valid notifications of claimed infringement under the DMCA, and continued receipt of infringement notifications for Customer’s account will be used as a factor in determining whether Customer is a repeat infringer.
TF note on AT&T: We can find no “Repeat Infringer Policy”
CenturyLink:Company respects the intellectual property rights of others and is committed to complying with U.S. copyright laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (‘DMCA’). Company reserves the right to suspend or terminate, in appropriate circumstances, the service of users whose accounts are repeatedly implicated in allegations of copyright infringement involving the use of Company’s network.
TF note: We have no idea what constitutes “appropriate circumstances.”
Comcast/Xfinity:Any infringement of third party copyright rights violates the law. We reserve the right to treat any customer account for whom we receive multiple DMCA notifications from content owners as a repeat infringer.
We reserve the right to move a customer account to the next step of the policy upon receiving any number of DMCA notifications from content owners in a given month, or upon learning that the account holder is a repeat infringer.
You may receive an email alert to the preferred email address on your account or a letter to your home address. You may also receive an in-browser notification, a recorded message to your telephone number on file, a text message to your mobile telephone number on file, or another form of communication.
Triggering steps under this policy may result in the following: a persistent in-browser notification or other form of communication that requires you to log in to your account or call us; a temporary suspension of, or other interim measures applied to, your service; or the termination of your Xfinity Internet service as well as your other Xfinity services (other than Xfinity Mobile).
TF note on Comcast: The ‘repeat infringer’ policy is quite detailed and worth the long read.
Cox Communications:Cox encourages responsible internet use. Our internet use policy is consistent with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and allows us to take steps when we receive notifications of claimed infringement.
Repeated notifications of claimed violations on your account could lead to Internet service suspension or termination.
If you continue to receive copyright infringement notifications on your account, Cox suspends your Internet service. In the Customer Portal, you may reactivate your Internet service up to two times.
If your account continues to receive copyright infringement notifications, your Internet service is terminated.
TF note on Cox: The repeat infringer policy is worth a read and is quite specific in parts, less so in others.
Spectrum/Charter: TF initial note: The company doesn’t appear to have a dedicated ‘repeat infringer’ policy outside of its published “copyright violation” advice. While this is both detailed and helpful in many respects, it doesn’t give specifics on alleged ‘repeat infringers’.
After noting that “Charter may suspend or disconnect your service as a result of repeat copyright violations,” users are sent to its Acceptable Use Policy page, which reads in part as follows:
Spectrum reserves the right to investigate violations of this AUP, including the gathering of information from the Subscriber or other Users involved and the complaining party, if any, and the examination of material on Spectrum’s servers and network.
Spectrum prefers to advise Users of AUP violations and any necessary corrective action but, if Spectrum, in its sole discretion, determines that a User has violated the AUP, Spectrum will take any responsive action that is deemed appropriate without prior notification. Such action includes but is not limited to: temporary suspension of service, reduction of service resources, and termination of service.
Verizon: Pursuant to Section 512 of the DMCA, it is Verizon’s policy to terminate the account of repeat copyright infringers in appropriate circumstances.
TF note: This appears to be the shortest ‘repeat infringer’ policy of all the ISPs and is a good example of why we decided to ask all of the companies for their precise steps, so we could offer a little more detail to their customers.
Sorry, we failed, but there’s probably a good reason for that.
Summary: With several ISPs up to their necks in lawsuits filed by the RIAA alleging that they haven’t done enough to deal with “repeat infringers”, it’s perhaps no surprise that the companies ignored our requests for information.
That being said, it’s of interest that several appear to be acting in a particularly vague manner – perhaps they’re already worrying that they’ll be next on the music industry’s list.
In the meantime and in most cases, users will remain largely in the dark unless they do a lot of reading and research. And even that might not be enough.
The legal action effectively shut the sites down with many other platorms voluntarily following suit.
Not all game pirate sites were shaken up by the legal action though. RomUniverse, a site that’s been around for a decade, saw its visitor numbers rise and announced that it would continue to offer Nintendo ROMs.
Fast forward a year and Nintendo is now taking RomUniverse to court. In a complaint filed at a federal court in California, the Japanese gaming giant accuses the site’s alleged operator, Matthew Storman, of “brazen” and “mass-scale” copyright and trademark infringement.
“The Website is among the most visited and notorious online hubs for pirated Nintendo video games. Through the Website, Defendants reproduce, distribute, monetize, and offer for download thousands of unauthorized copies of Nintendo’s video games,” the complaint reads.
Nintendo states that the site, which has 375,000 members, offers downloads for nearly every video game system it has ever produced.
The complaint specifically notes that “hundreds of thousands of copies” have been illegally downloaded through RomUniverse, including nearly 300,000 copies of pirated Nintendo Switch games and more than 500,000 copies of pirated Nintendo 3DS games.
Users of the site can download one file per week for free. Those who want more have to sign up for a paid membership. After an “upgrade” of $30, members are allowed to download as many files as they want. This includes games, but also ebooks and the latest Hollywood movies.
As said before, RomUniverse wasn’t impressed by the legal threats Nintendo issued against other sites last year. This didn’t go unnoticed to the game publisher, which specifically mentions the operator’s defiance in its complaint.
“In 2018, around the time that Nintendo successfully enforced its intellectual property rights against other infringing ROM websites, defendant Storman bragged that his Website would continue to offer Nintendo ROMs,” Nintendo writes.
Through the lawsuit, which also lists a count of unfair competition, Nintendo hopes to shut RomUniverse down. The company also requests statutory damages of $150,000 per infringing Nintendo game and up to $2,000,000 for each trademark infringement.
This means that, with dozens of copyrighted titles and trademarks on the record, theoretical damages are well over $100 million.
Finally, Nintendo further asks for a permanent injunction ordering the site and its operator(s) to stop their infringing activities while handing over their domain names to the game publisher.
Update: RomAdmin from RomUniverse informed us that he hasn’t received anything from Nintendo, no recent takedown notices either. The site does respond to takedown notices.
“We’ve always immediately taken down questionable material, per their take down notices,” RomAdmin told TorrentFreak.
A copy of Nintendo’s complaint against Matthew Storman and any “John Doe” accomplices, is available here (pdf).
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